On his latest album, Mac Rebennack revives his legendary Night Tripper persona from the late sixties. The decades just fall away. The good doctor will be seventy later this year, but he can still cut it with the best of them. His piano playing is as mesmerising as ever, lyrically he has plenty to say and he ain't afraid to say it, and the band (complemented by a sprinkling of notable guests) is as tight as the proverbial you-know-what. The only downside is that, musically, the doc seems just a little too ready these days to slip into a familiar well-worn groove instead of really pushing the boat out, and so real killer tunes are at something of a premium. It's a malaise that's affected his last few releases, with 2004's 'N'Awlinz - Dis Dat Or D'Udda' the last truly great Dr John offering.
'Tribal' is what would elsewhere be called a game of two halves. Whilst always listenable it starts slowly with the swaggering 'Feel Good Music', almost as if the good doctor was easing himself gently into the session, before things really kick off with the funky 'Whut's Wit Dat' about half-way through. The best tracks, by a clear distance, are the title song replete with tribal chanting and infectious percussion, a sort of latter-day 'I Walk On Gilded Splinters', 'Manoovas' which is energised by the considerable presence of slide guitar wizard Derek Trucks, the shuffling 'Scroungin' and 'Only In Amerika' a sardonic sideswipe at the most powerful country on the planet, echoing the sentiments of Randy Newman's 'A Few Words In Defense Of Our Country' a couple of years ago.
The album eventually builds up a head of steam and gets better as it goes along, but somewhere along the way some of the tunes seem to have been left behind.