"If you wonder how we doing / Short version is we getting there," Dr. John sings at one point on this album dedicated to his beloved New Orleans. But because it's the post-Katrina, "stripped away" New Orleans, he follows that couplet with, "If you wonder how we doing / Short version is we getting mad."
And getting mad is what fuels the bitter lyrical buckshot spraying through the thirteen songs on this album. Dr. John, long one of the Big Easy's most eminent ambassadors, is not concerned with polite diplomacy here ("Gonna say what's in my heart, that's my first amendment right," he sings). In "Black Gold," an indictment of how big oil runs America, he takes square aim at the politicians who "send our children off to die without a single tear in their eye." "Dream Warrior" references Billie Holiday, saying "The strange fruit of today ain't hangin' from no tree / Layin' on the ground left to rot right where they drowned." "Say Whut?" goes for W's throat, with lines like "Say it's a job well done / Then you giggled like a bitch / Hopped back on the Airforce One." "Promises, Promises," a duet with Willie Nelson, simply says, "The road to the White House is paved with lies."
But Dr. John knows about the spoonful of sugar theory, so he surrounds these lyrical missiles with good-time, funky grooves and swampy horn charts. And on the set's standout, the moving "My People Need A Second Line," he drops the anger altogether to pay tribute to the mourners' processions that are such a hallmark of his city's culture. Halfway through, the gospel-flavored ballad even explodes into a joyous Dixieland romp, reminding the listeners of New Orleans' free-spirited soul, a valuable resource that our uptight country can't afford to lose.
A deeply felt, topical album from one of the deepest cats ever to come out of New Orleans. • Bill DeMain