Dr. John – Mos' Scocious (1993)

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As Mac Rebbenack, aka Dr. John the Night Tripper, says: He’s done “whatever I had to do to get the job did.”

Over the years, this amounts to a list of jobs including, but not limited to, snot-nosed duck-tailed rocker, record producer, songwriter, way-out psychedelic pop star, reliable recording-session sideman and, at this point, a comfortable late-career existence of laurel-riding as a jazz and soul pioneer.

Rhino’s two-disc retrospective, like Dr. John’s recorded output itself through the early 1990s, seemed to point to a career and creative retrenchment. (The good news is, he pulled out of that — but that’s a Rebennack review for another day.)

“Mos’ Scocious” moves from tough, late-1950s rock ‘n’ roll — when Mac was writing and playing in a group called, no lie, Ronnie and the Delinquents — to the tripped-out bliss of 1968’s “Gris Gris” recording, with all its Mardi Gras mambo beats and dim, sweaty melodies.

Next comes the hip pop successes of 1973’s “In the Right Place” (embedded below) and the solo joys of “Dr. John Plays Mac Rebbenack,” where he takes a curious, yet very rewarding step backward — covering his hero Professor Longhair, for instance — during an odd period when he wasn’t signed to any major label.

Finally, there are the smooth, if not exactly adventurous, jazz stylings of “In a Sentimental Mood,” the 1989 Warner Bros. release.

Mac got his start in music as an A&R man for the Ace label in New Orleans. This entailed quite a bit of standing around at recording sessions, and even a little bit of sitting in for players who didn’t show.

By he time he was in his 20s, Rebbenack had played with all the local greats — Huey Smith (whose work Dr. John paid tribute to on a 1972 single that shows up on Disc 2), sax man Alvin “Red” Tyler and the brilliant Earl King (whose “Let’s Make a Better World,” included here, was recorded by Mac in 1974.) He also took cues from hometown geniuses like arranger Allen Toussaint, who would later work closely with Dr. John in the early 1970s.

And, like Fat Tuesday throws in a big plastic cup, Rebennack let all of his childhood influences mix and mingle.

Dr. John does the best job on “Mos’ Scocious,” to my ear, with the solo stuff and those recordings from his voodoo period, songs in which he thrillingly blends rock, funk, Dixieland and Jelly Roll’s Spanish tinges. As stately as those late-80s big-band recordings no doubt are, they somehow lack the danger and passion of his earlier work.

 

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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