The first thing that hits you about Dr. John’s Tribal is his voice. It’s deeper, more soulful, filled with cool expressive asides, Southern phrasing and mixed just perfectly atop the gumbo. At 70, the good doc (Mac Rebennack) is now the face, voice and personality of New Orleans itself. No one artist was ever more associated with his hometown than this one.
The righteous anger that permeated his last album, The City That Care Forgot, is gone. Like post-Katrina Crescent City inhabitants themselves, Mac’s had to move on. Tribal is positively gleeful. NOLA legend Allen Toussaint contributes two songs. Another native, the late Bobby Charles, co-wrote three. Slide guitarist Derek Trucks solos and alto saxman Donald Harrison blows, and I mean that as a compliment. The band itself—drum, bass, guitar, double percussion—positivelywails in sympathetic accord with Mac’s keyboards/vocals.
Call it swamp rock, Creole soul or Cajun funk, but the sound on this stone-cold beauty could’ve been the follow-up to Mac’s 1968 Gris-Gris. The title cut even utilizes a Mardi Gras Indian Chief to invoke the healing strength of the music as practiced by the many tribes of the area.
Dr. John has soaked up the best of the best having been influenced as much by Johnny Mercer and Duke Ellington as he has by Professor Longhair. He has reached that rare plateau wherein he’s now become that which he first emulated.