Shrugged off by some cynics as just a crossover move and a play for cred on the part of the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, Dr. John’s Locked Down is soulful and funky in such an innate and graceful way, it’s easy to miss how truly special an album it is. Go directly to side-two opener “Kingdom of Izzness” to dispel any doubt that this is some exercise in hype or nostalgia. Just listen closely, and don’t be afraid to sway your ass while the Doctor and company boil this (i.e. existence) all down to a Bodhisattva vision of waking up and inhabiting the now.
Sure, you’ll be reminded of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and the Meters, but there is no aping going on here, just kickass and tasteful musicianship from a stellar cast of relative unknowns (besides the star and the apprentice). Recorded and produced by Auerbach at his studio, Easy Eye Sound in Nashville, the sounds made are instantly classic, but also immediate and gripping, and things don’t let up for a second of any track: No extraneous notes or silliness to be found.
Auerbach is to be commended in asking this icon to dig deep when it came to writing the lyrics. Throughout, we get an American shaman’s take on his nation’s current soul sickness, exploring his own shady past (on the entrancing 6/8 spin of “Getaway”), as well as the pervasive evil that lies near the heart of mankind (“You Lie”). On the three-minute New Orleans funk classic “Eleggua,” the wizened one sings in Voodoo tongue, reaching back to Gris-Gris—until now, Dr. John’s best album. Always the Beefheart fanatic, Auerbach coaxes Dr. John into channeling Clear Spot-era Don Van Vliet on “Ice Age.” Dr. John seems happy to oblige, though he of course eschews the Captain’s Dada-esque poetry, choosing instead to paint a picture of a harried few that can withstand these days of villainy.
The album appropriately approaches family and religion on the last two tracks, approaching the fundament of one person’s entire existence. “My Children, My Angels” is not so much a mea culpa, as it is an explaining of truth and undying affection to those that may perceive themselves to be unready, unwilling or unable to even consider such talk. The gospel chorus and overall arc of the closing “God’s Sure Good” is so infectious and inspiring, my 21-month-old daughter immediately asked for it to be played again upon its finish. She may not understand the words, but she sure does understand the feeling.