Gris Gris, Dr John’s (neé Mac Rebennack) breathtaking debut full-length, begins with an astonishingly succinct, yet endlessly compelling act of self-identification: “My name is… Dr. John, The Night Tripper, I got my satchel of gris gris in my hand.” With this devilishly incantatory line Dr. John erases Mac Rebennack, the stolid New Orleans studio musician, and conjures an entirely new character to take his place. Part streetwise hipster, part Creole rustic, and part starry-eyed seeker, the Dr. John character drew on many of the influences, from psychedelics, to fuzztone pedals, to dread haunted field hollers, that were fueling much of the most adventurous popular music of the era. But by straining these influences through his own warped vision of New Orleans’ musical history Dr. John created an album that was both timely and timeless. Though the low-slung groove of “Mama Roux” sounded like good old-fashioned gut bucket funk, it was yoked to a hysterical banshee-like refrain that took it far beyond the bounds of mere funk. From the lopsided jig of “Danse Kalinda” to the eerie incantations and ghostly mandolins of “I Walk on Golden Splinters” Gris Gris finds Dr. John boldly initiating his long career of uncompromising iconoclasm and visionary madness.


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