The left hand is thunder, thumping so hard there’s no need for a drummer. The right hand is lightning, tripping across the keys, spinning out golden triplets and silvery runs that can make a piano fan deliriously happy. And the voice is steeped in grits and gravy, as funky and down-home as you please.
They all belong to Mac Rebennack, aka Dr. John. All by Hisself, the first in a planned series of archival releases, is truth-in-packaging, taken from two 1986 performances in New York City. It’s just the man and a piano — anything else would have been superfluous.
The 17 songs here are a history lesson in New Orleans music. Chris Kenner (“Sick and Tired,” “Something You Got”), Earl King (“Let’s Make a Better World”) and Huey Smith (four songs in a medley) all get their due. Doc Pomus shows up, co-writing “Average Kind of Guy,” about a fellow who’s “low on luck and high on pills,” and complains “I love the girls that I can’t get.” Chestnuts “Stagger Lee,” “Junco Partner,” and “Iko Iko” are here too, as are the Doctor’s “Such a Night” and “Right Place, Wrong Time.”
His playing echoes every great Crescent City pianist. Professor Longhair, James Booker, Fats Domino — at one time or another Dr. John sounds like all of them. But he’s more than a mimic. As the liner notes remind us, “there ain’t a lyric on this album Mac ain’t been to.”
An extra treat is a 22-minute DVD, Mac Sings, Plays & Talks About New Orleans Music … . It’s more truth-in-packaging, as he does just that, interrupted every so often by a vaguely irritating, dorky reporter. But that’s redundant.
Vic Doucette is the copy editor at Metro Times. E-mail him at email@example.com.
We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Support Local Journalism.
Join the Detroit Metro Times Press Club
Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.
Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.
Join the Metro Times Press Club for as little as $5 a month.