Between 1968 and 1972, New Orleans-cum-L.A. session musician Mac Rebennack transformed himself into Dr. John, The Nite Tripper.
He recorded a series of albums for Atlantic, most importantly "Gris-Gris", but also "Babylon", "Remedies", and "The Sun, Moon, & Herbs"; they seamlessly wove a heady, swampy brew of voodoo ritual, funk, and R&B, psychedelic rock, and Creole roots music.
The Black Keys' guitarist Dan Auerbach admitted upon meeting Rebennack that he wanted to produce a Dr. John album and to revisit the Nite Tripper's musical terrain on record.
The pair worked in Auerbach's Nashville studio with a group of younger players to explore the rawer, spookier elements in Dr. John's music.
"Locked Down" is not an attempt to re-create "Gris-Gris", which remains his classic; it -- and the other three records -- resembled nothing that existed before.
Auerbach and Dr. John wanted to make a modern recording that drew on the spontaneous, more organic feel of those records; they succeeded in spades.
"Locked Down" isn't quite swampy, but it is humid, even steamy. Its grooves are tight but raw and immediate. Its lyrics and music are charged with spiritual energy, carnal desire, and righteous indignation. It melds primal rock, careening R&B, and electric blues in an irresistible, downright nasty brew.
The fingerpopping horn chart that announces "Revolution", is underscored by a fat baritone sax, an urgent, shake-your-ass bassline, and pulsing guitars.
Drum breaks are constant in accompanying Rebennack's screed against corruption, "religious" hatred, and violence, which degrade humanity.
His Wurlitzer solo is brief yet searing.
"Ice Age"'s guitar, drum, and percussion vamp are deadly infectious. Rebennack's voice growls about collusion between the CIA and KKK and the end of an era, as the McCrary Sisters complement the vocals with an R&B chorus line in affirmation.
His organ drones and wheezes to complete the picture, yet turns the last line into possibility: "If you ain't iced/you got the breath of life within".
The electric piano on "Getaway" sets up a funktastic, bluesed-out swing. The guitars and Nick Movshon's hyper bassline drive it urgently with clusters of surf-like chords, reverb, and effects, completed by a roiling, over-the rails Auerbach solo.
"Eleggua" is pure spaced-out Nite Tripper, a cosmic funky butt strut; its chanted mystical prayers come from the world of flesh and spirit; it's populated by slippery, watery guitars, wailing B-3, broken snare beats, and even a flute.
That feel is underscored in the nocturnal shift and shimmer of "My Children, My Angels", driven by Rebennack's Rhodes, guitars, and a skittering snare.
It's greasy yet somehow in synch with this love letter from a repentant father to his kids.
Rebennack and Auerbach send it off, appropriately enough, with rock & roll gospel in "God's Sure Good" and a joyous chorus from the McCrary's behind-the-lyric's gratitude, highlighted by a swelling B-3 and backbone-slipping grit.
No matter which era or what record you prefer, as an album, "Locked Down" stands with Rebennack's best. T. JurekGris-Gris