One Track Mind: Dr. John, "When The Saints Go Marching In" (2004)

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by Pico

We were, of course, a little saddened that the historic season of Louisiana’s NFL team, the New Orleans Saints, came crashing to an ugly end last Sunday.

With apologies to U2 and Green Day, the song most associated with this team remains “When The Saints Go Marching In”. Just as it was on our minds for the Saints’ triumphant Monday night return to the Superdome, it remains appropriate to us now.

For you see, this traditional spiritual, which even more so represents the city of New Orleans itself, is widely thought of as a happy tune, played in an upbeat Dixieland style made famous in the 30’s by Louis Armstrong. It would probably be impossible to stroll through the French Quarter on any day without hearing the familiar notes blaring out some public establishment there before long. But traditionally, “The Saints” have been performed much more somberly, like a funeral dirge. In fact, it has been used in many a jazz funeral.

A few years ago New Orleans icon Dr. John put together a mostly excellent collection of mostly traditional songs associated with the Big Easy called N’Awlinz: Dis Dat or d’Udda. In it, he collaborates with a large number of area luminaries like Snooks Eaglin, Dave Bartholomew, Mavis Staples of the Staples Singers fame, Nicholas Payton and master arranger Wardell Quezergue. Ever irrepressible while maintaining his own unmistakable identity, Mr. Rebbenack provided some inspired treatment to songs that were overripe for his down-home touch.

Which brings us to the song that is the topic for this OTM. Dr. John made the inspired decision to render this tune similar to how it had been done before the middle of the last century: as a solemn, stately death song. Decelerated down to a slow waltz and augmented by Quezergue’s brass section, Dr. John splits singing the verses with Staples, while backup vocals from Davell Crawford Singers add to the solemn temperament. The whole downbeat atmosphere is nicely rounded out by John’s well-played piano fills.

A song that is played with sorrow like this rendition, but expresses hope for a joyful afterlife. It’s something most likely everyone can identify with and why even without an upbeat arrangement it remains one of the most beloved and recognizable songs in American culture. Likewise, we Saints fans felt the death of a memorable season and take hope in the afterlife called “next year”. Dr. John understands.

Listen: Dr. John “When The Saints Go Marching In”

Purchase: Dr. John N’Awlinz: Dis Dat or d’Udda

“One Track Mind” is a weekly drool over a single song selected on a whim and a short thesis on why you should be drooling over it, too.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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