While a lot – if not all – of Dr. John’s albums a celebration of all things New Orleans, nowhere else is the tribute to his musical heritage nearly as obvious as it is on the two collections of New Orleans classics known as ‘Dr. John’s Gumbo’ (1972) and these fantastic recordings from two decades later. In a way, the album is also sort of an artistic reawakening for Dr. John after a somewhat unproductive decade. No matter how you view ‘Goin’ Back To New Orleans’, it’s an enjoyable listen. If only because of the celebratory nature and spirited performances by every musician involved.
Part of what makes the album work so well is that the Doctor is working with some veterans of the scene, including Danny Barker, Al Hirt and the Neville Brothers. The chemistry is alive and well throughout ‘Goin’ Back To New Orleans'; it’s obvious that everyone involved had the shared enthusiasm for bringing new life to these New Orleans classics. That spirit would be reason enough to go out and buy this record immediately, but it’s also clear that Dr. John put a lot of effort into selecting a range songs and thinking of the order in which they worked best. That alone warrants the presence of eighteen tracks.
Amongst the tracks selected are traditionals that have been done by everybody, such as ‘Careless Love’ and a particularly swinging version of ‘Goodnight, Irene’ – have you ever heard that sung with such awesome horns? – there are also a few less predictable inclusions. The album opens with the very atypical ‘Litanie Des Saints’, Dr. John’s tribute to classical composer Gottschalk. The song has a classical vibe to it, but there’s also something African and something Caribbean to the rhythms. It took some time getting used to it, but it quickly became one of the most beautiful pieces I have ever heard.
Other highlights include ‘Do You Call That A Buddy?’ with its exciting vibe, Jelly Roll Morton’s ‘I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say’, which has a vocal cameo by Danny Barker, who actually knew Buddy Bolden, and the cynical Blues of ‘How Come My Dog Don’t Bark When You Come Around’ with the Doctor himself ad-libbing brilliantly near the end. However, the perfect closing statement is the title track. The horn arrangement just pops, the choirs by the Neville Brothers are exuberant and the Afro-Cuban rhythms and piano parts make even me want to get up and dance. Joe Liggins’ original is amazing, but this is the ultimate version of the song.
Dr. John’s New Orleans class is complete with his extensive liner notes, in which he explains the history of the songs he’s tackled here and whose versions inspired him most. It accompanies the music perfectly and makes the album so much more than just another album by the musical genius that is Dr. John; it makes ‘Goin’ Back To New Orleans’ sort of an archive release by an enthusiast who wants people to learn as much about the vast musical history of New Orleans as possible. But even when you approach this as “just an album”, it’s an incredibly enjoyable one with very long lasting impact. A must for any music fan.
Recommended tracks: ‘Goin’ Back To New Orleans’, ‘Litanie Des Saints’, ‘Do You Call That A Buddy?’