I’m feeling kinda tired, my reviews have lost their sparkle; I’m just going through the motions, Lego-ically speaking; I just don’t mean it any more (man). I know, I need a reboot. Rick Rubin’s the guy I’d really like to get in to punch up my next review, help me strip it all back down and take it all back to the basics. Mind you he’s pretty expensive, his AC/DC album was a bit of a wet fart and Rick might just be a bit straight-forward for me. I know, I’ll get Dan Auerbach instead, he’s a dab hand and he can help me assemble a bunch of young bucks to light a bit of a fire under my ass and bring back the energy of my earlier reviews. Hell, I’ll probably scoop a Pulitzer next year*.
Okay, Dr John Locked Down from way, way back in the 2012-shaped mists of time. Maybe it wasn’t strictly speaking a comeback LP, but it definitely was a return to some credibility for an artist who’d had a real creative peak a long time ago and was pretty much coasting, playing a B-movie version of himself for ever-dwindling returns. Damned shame too, Babylon and Gris-Gris being such incredible, idiosyncratic albums and all. Most casual bystanders assumed that whatever spark of melting genius that resided in the man’s dome had been fogged out long ago.
It’s easy to be cynical as hell about the old-un/young-un team up LPs like this, but suspend it all immediately the proof of the pudding lies in the, umm, listening and Locked Down delivers in spades. Auerbach took Dr John into a great-sounding room, teamed him up with a really good, but not starry band and refused to accept anything but real effort from the (then) 71 year-old. I remember reading a magazine interview with Auerbach and it really didn’t sound easy, he hinted a little that there had been real conflict here but that everyone was real proud of the album.
When I first bought Locked Down I liked a couple of tracks and was a bit underwhelmed by all the rest and told everyone who’d listen to me** that it was all very so-so. I’m a cloth-eared idiot, ignore me – this is a brilliant LP, maybe a bit too subtle for me on first listen.
‘Locked Down’ and ‘Revolution’ sped away straight off the blocks and whacked me around the face. Hurricane Katrina and its political aftermath are never directly mentioned on the LP, but you feel its presence behind a lot of Locked Down, particularly these two tracks. The title track conjures up a soupy sixties-flavoured palette, with some great backing vocals and a real funky strut aided and abetted by the main man’s electric piano swirls. ‘Revolution’ sounds older again, a step backwards to borrow some jazz-flavoured licks, appropriate for a song dealing with age-old-deadly-current issues,
Angels surrender, killed in their tracks
Babies, women raped
Leaders on their backs
Prepare your Revolution
Is this the final solution?
The song shimmies and parps in all the right places, there’s anger in the words but not in the delivery. My real big favourite ‘Big Shot’ is up next, sounding a little like a Cab Calloway / Cotton Club reject around the edges, with an almost pump organ sound, which stacks up nicely next to, the quite brilliant, ‘Ice Age’ which has, I kid you not, an African Township jive feel about its guitars and rhythm. I really love this melting pot of ideas and details, there’s so much to listen to on this album, loads of little details in the mix, I keep discovering solos and instrumental touches that make me wonder if I was listening properly last time. That can only be down to the sheer quality of the writing and production here, as always for Auerbach it sounds warm and punchy.
There’s a diverse bunch of styles and accents on Locked Down, but the one constant is a certain bluesy funky swing beat^, whether the song’s slow, or faster it’s still there. There is an unseemly amount of lewd hip action throughout the album as a whole, thank God; even on the tracks that mention children, angels and God. The band sound great, real fluid and slinky and the grand physician himself certainly hasn’t lost any of his touch behind the keyboard, whether driving the rhythm, or adding flavour and spice up top.
The sleeve notes^* penned by Gabe Soria pretty much nail the whole affair, penned in Dr John’s own patented New-Awlins psycho-hepcattery jive-talk – think Lord Buckley on low voltage, he vamps on the whole Dr John / Mac Rebennack persona and the tale of how Locked Down came together and came good. Soria characterises the album as, ‘an invitation to do a dirty grind in a backroom bar at 3AM and a call to go to church the next day’, sounds great to me and if the latter is the price of the former then so be it; this once. Particularly if today’s hymn is the closing ‘God’s Sure Good’ with its thrust and Al Kooper-esque organ touches it elevates what could be a helping of soppy triteburger in the wrong hands, to a slice of soulful joy pie. These are definitely the right hands.
The whole Locked Down experience has been, to commit a back catalogue burglarwordization Right Place, Right Time, Right Hands!
PS: a sticker on my LP proudly tells me that this album, which is admittedly GREAT sounding on vinyl, was ‘plated and pressed at Pallas, Diepholz, Germany’. This is a demonstrably good thing.
*You see what I did there? I’m so clever! You really are totes honoured to read these words that I done squeeze out of my head, y’all.
**mostly my cat and dog, the expressions on the faces of creatures with fewer legs when I bang on about music tend to glaze over immediately before they employ those legs to back away.
^does that even make sense? Is that a real thing, or have I just nailed a load of unrelated words together? I have no idea, I’ll just plough on regardless for now. Locked Down did win the 2013 Grammy award for best blues album, so I may be onto something there.
^*SLEEVE NOTES!! Surely I don’t need to tell you again how much I love sleeve notes!!