Dr John: The Montreux Years

Live collections can tend towards relentlessness but New Orleans stalwart Mac Rebennack always delivered a good show, whatever the material

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New Orleans pianist and gris-gris devotee Dr John was a regular visitor to the Montreux Jazz Festival, making seven appearances between 1986 and 2012. Sometimes playing solo, otherwise accompanied by his band, he was always made most welcome.

In this selection of songs drawing on that 26-year output, his solo performances on six tracks best showcase his pianistic skills. His considered approach to the In A Sentimental Mood medley and the florid opening boogie dedicated to Professor Longhair both stand out, although his vocals are often quite ragged; the slower, bluesier songs here better suit his vocal range.

The addition of up to seven backing musicians on the remaining tracks add more depth behind the piano, the tight horn section in particular adding punch, notably on Going Back To New Orleans. Standout track is Dr John’s biggest hit single, Right Place, Wrong Time from 1973, distinguished by his inspired Hammond organ intro and John Fohl’s lead electric guitar, although Makin’ Whoopee is endearing and Leadbelly’s Good Night Irene provides a rollicking ending.

A “best of” selection from live shows is aways going to be a bit relentless, a tad too upbeat. But then Dr John always delivered a good show, whatever the material. He died in 2019: this live selection is a good way to enjoy him, but the original studio albums from which of most of these live tracks were drawn are more rewarding.

Discography
Professor Longhair Boogie; You Ain’t Such A Much; Sick And Tired; Stack-a-Lee; Accentuate The Positive; Right Place, Wrong Time; Rain; Going Back To New Orleans; Makin’ Whoopee; Big Chief; In A Sentimental Mood / Mississippi Mud / Hard Hard Times; Love For Sale; Let The Good Times Roll, Good Night Irene (78.55)
Dr John (p, v), plus various backing bands. Live, Montreux Jazz Festival, Switzerland, 1986–2012.
BMG 580CD