I am a big Dr. John fan. I love his piano. I’m crazy about his voice. In his latest album, Locked Down, that dropped on April 3, 2012, Dr. John strangely fades away a bit as Black Keys producer and performer Dan Auerbach places his hands on Dr. John’s keyboard. The result is a bit of a disappointing mishmash of a previously undeniable musical identity:
Storied musician and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Dr. John–Mac Rebennack–will release LOCKED DOWN, a startling album that marks a significant departure from his recent efforts, on April 3, 2012. The new album, produced by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, will be Dr. John’s first for Nonesuch Records.
It’s an entirely new approach for the iconic Dr. John, featuring as it does his collaboration with Auerbach and a band of young musicians Auerbach hand-picked to make LOCKED DOWN at his studio Easy Eye Sound in Nashville. “It was way cool cutting this record with Dan and the crew he put together for it,” says Rebennack. “It’s reel HIP.
When you listen to Dr. John, you know you’re going to get power from that distinctive voice, and lots and lots of that heavy-handed New Orleans style piano.
In Locked Down, Dr. John is just that — he’s missing from the mix. It’s as if Auerbach, as producer, didn’t want our main man out front. Instead of getting a voice in the wilderness, we get a giant curtain of sound; and while the idea is interesting, the execution fails as a Dr. John album.
Here’s a promotional clip for the album, and you can see Dr. John just sort of stands around and sits around while those around him are doing all the work. It’s a strange and dissonant disconnection from the Dr. John stylebook we diehard fans have come to expect and want from the good doctor.
Dan Auerbach is a magnificently talented guitarist and performer, but as a producer for Dr. John, I don’t like his ubiquitous style where musical integrity is subsumed and the sustaining idea of being strange just to be strange — see Dr. John’s odd headdress on the album as uncomfortable visual proof of this notion — wins in the recording studio. Locked Down doesn’t doesn’t honor the man or the talent, and that is an inexcusable oversight that should shame any record producer into oblivion.