Dr. John, the son of a record-shop owner, began his career in the 1950s as a teenage sideman and arranger. He played guitar until he got a finger blown off trying to protect a bandmate from a pistol-whipping at age 21; he then made the keyboard his primary instrument.
At 71, Dr. John has been shuffling musical styles like a well-worn deck of cards in a jive-talking nightclub hustle for decades. Revisiting the voodoo jazz funk of his early years, John delivers Locked Down, a collaboration with the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, who produces and plays guitar.
Locked Down is a record steeped in vintage rock and R&B. Born of a jam session at last year's Bonnaroo, and full of vintage R&B grooves, psychedelic arrangements and oracular mumbo jumbo, it's the wildest record John has made in many years, as well as announcing Auerbach's inauguration in the new generation of studio wizards.
If the album's components may be retro, but the production has a 21st-century sensibility. With ghostly backing vocals wafting throughout and dub-reggae effects and the grooves of Nigerian Afrobeat and Ethiopian funk. Lyrically, the Doctor diagnoses the present through the past in a more weathered version of his trademark nasal growl, juggling generations of slang, conjuring conspiracy theories and drug-culture shell games that have changed little over the years.
All told, Locked Down is that rare thing: a retro exercise that looks forward, by an old hustler and a young player who, in the process of making a great record, probably taught each other a thing or two.
MY CHILDREN, MY ANGELS (clip)
KINGDOM OF IZZINESS
RELATED NOTE:The Black Keys will bring some New Orleans flavor to their 2013 Grammys performance when Dr. John and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band join them onstage. Dr. John is up for Best Blues Album for Locked Down , and The Black Keys are up for five awards, including Album of the Year for El Camino.