Dr. John

Mac Rebennack, a.k.a. Dr. John, is America's answer to Vladimir Horowitz. He is the foremost master of boogie-woogie and barrelhouse piano, as well as having invented a large piano vocabulary all his own, including elegant turnarounds on R&B numbers and ticklish right-hand runs on the upper keys. More significant, Dr. John has the strongest left-hand rhythm I've ever heard. Sho' nuff, on the DVD included in this CD package, Rebennack reveals a misspent childhood practicing those left-hand boogie-woogie chops, like a fighter perfecting his punches until they pack the wallop of a pile driver. His own history goes back damn near to the genesis of rock and roll, when he sold $40 songs for Little Richard to record at Specialty Records. This was 1955, when he was at Jesuit High in New Orleans.

Rebennack recorded All By Hisself live in 1986 at the Lone Star Café (once known as New York's "Texas Embassy"), where he was a regular. He can be heard tipping his hat to the great R&B songwriter Doc Pomus, often in the audience during these Lone Star shows. Pomus and Rebennack wrote some 400 songs together, quite a few still unrecorded. One of their jaunty Tin Pan Alley blues numbers, "Average Kind of Guy," debuts on this disc. "Qualified" shows that Rebennack can out-funk Stevie Wonder or Billy Preston. Earl King's "Let's Make a Better World" contains a beautiful off-the-hook piano chorus, and Dr. John's own standards, "Right Place Wrong Time" and "Such a Night," receive definitive solo versions here. All By Hisself is the first release on Mac Rebennack's "vanity" label, Skinji Brim, and it is almost too rich a brew. So good it should be illegal.

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Josh Alan Friedman