Dr. John "Mercenary" Blue Note Records

By Bob Putignano

"Mercenary" marks the fifth release for Dr. John at Blue Note records within the last five years, so it seems safe to say the Mac seems to have found a cozy home at Blue Note after spending most of the 70's, 80's & 90's bouncing around at various major labels as well as with several small independent record companies. But make no doubt about it that Mr. Rebennack has arguably recorded some of his best work at Blue Note which at first blush- from the year of 2000 with Mac's "Duke Elegance" seemed like a very unlikely pairing.

Since Katrina many New Orleans musicians have been more active than they have been for decades, for example Allen Toussaint's current recording with Elvis Costello, and the wonderful New Orleans Social Club CD "Sing Me Back Home" which featured NOLA regulars like several of the Neville's, Henry Butler, Marcia Ball, Irma Thomas, Leo Nocentelli, Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews, and many others, as well as Mac's 2005 Blue Note outing "Sippiana Hericane" where the majority of the proceeds were designated to Katrina related efforts. So it is great to see Mac continuing to carry the torch for NOLA with his infectious interpretations of Johnny Mercer on "Mercenary."

"Mercenary" is mostly made made up of tunes by one of Mac's heroes- Johnny Mercer, except for "Personality," and the Rebennack penned "I Ain't No Johnny Mercer" which is very humorous. The core musicians on this disk are pretty much the same lineup from "Sippiana Hericane" with John Fohl on guitar, David Barard bass, and Herman Ernest drums & percussion, plus various horns.

Highlights include the opening track "Blues in the Night" which is the funkiest tune on the disk, "Lazy Bones" which has that similar roux stirring ala Mac's haunting classic "Walk on Guilded Splinters," "Save the Bones for Henry Jones" is all N'Awlins complete with a hearty bass line and outstanding horn charts. The aforementioned "I Ain't No Johnny Mercer" which offers a greasy B3 groove where perhaps Mac is having a laugh with himself making self comparisons to Mercer. The CD's only instrumental "I'm an Old Cow Hand" has a really cool vibe, and needless to say- is completely rearranged from the original, thanks to the funky second-line drumming courtesy of Herman Ernest, and Mac's eighty-eights as the band makes this tune swing ever so effortlessly.

It takes guts to make a New Orleans funk-groove recording out of mostly all Johnny Mercer tunes, but Mac confidently pulls it off in grand style. The entire band strut's its stuff throughout, providing lessons as to how American songbook tunes can be rearranged, recharged, funkified, and made into twenty-first century contemporary classics. Additionally, I look forward to seeing these tunes in live performance, as I am sure they will continue to glow and grow. High marks for the good Doctor's creativity and interpretations here, but then again this is what we have come to expect from Mr. Rebennack. Highly recommended listening, and enjoy the funk!

Bob Putignano www.SoundsofBlue.com

Bob Putignano
Radio Host WFDU's "Sounds of Blue"
President of the NY Blues and Jazz Society