Dr. John - Babylon

Dr. John

Released 1969 on Atco
Reviewed by Graveyard Poet, 01/03/2008ce

Dr. John and his cohorts conducted a very special one-of-a-kind late night New Orleans R&B/psychedelic/swamp gumbo voodoo ritual with Gris-Gris (perfectly reviewed by The Seth Man and Vox Phantom).

Just like all of the communal highs of the counterculture in the late 1960s, however, the dream soon faded. This came about as a result of the violent traumas and conflicts--the traumas of 1968--that divided the United States of America and left those like Dr. John and their ilk with a collective hangover.

If Gris-Gris was the nocturnal ritual that tapped into the ancient roots of the bayou, then Babylon is the nocturnal ritual that stares down the modern discord of the city without blinking (with perhaps only the song "Barefoot Lady" as an exception).

If Gris-Gris is the Night Tripper's tour as the "Grand Zombie" through the primordial past, then Babylon is John Creaux's tour as the "Lonesome Guitar Strangler" through the apocalyptic future.

In Gris-Gris, a strange smoke, a viscous fog, seemed to pervade the record. This is akin to the mists which roll and rise from the backwoods.

In Babylon, an equally bizarre presence wafts and drifts, haunting the fringes of the record. It is a spacey and surreal ghost akin to ether which dissolves and evaporates like the disintegration of sanity.

Gris-Gris was a ritual under a full moon. Babylon is a ritual during a new moon. Gris-Gris is the ritual of a shaman. Babylon is the ritual of a prophet.

The prophet begins his warnings and exhortations to the congregation after the carnival keyboards begin his radical revival. "I'm gonna bring my wrath down on you now/So you feel the weight of truth now/Gonna drive you like the rock of ages in the sea/And disappear like a pebble in eternity/Nobody wants to save what's best left dead/A tidal wave is gonna dig your gra-a--a--ve." The bass, jazzy drums heavy on the cymbals, piano, and saxophone ratchet up the urgency of the mad prophet's message as he rasps and raps like a Hoodoo Dolemite. Then the God's wrath rumble and the circus sermon keyboards re-emerge once more only to fade away to the return of the backup singers soulfully intoning the accursed name of the city as they did at the beginning of their service.

The singers ominously harmonize the cabalistic title of the song throughout the chorus of "Glowin'" while his reverend Doctor tells us we gotta "Keep on keepin' on" and that this isn't the "land of milk and honey" but the place where people "sell their souls for money."

The prophet then preaches about that "Black Widow Spider" scurrying the streets and cafes of New Orleans after nightfall. Thick and mean bass grooves and syncopated drum beats that mean business ooze out like inky black tar from a cellar. Dirty and fuzzy organ joins the streetside fray and acidic, free-form guitar spins threads throughout the web of the Doctor's tangled story. Exotic skull and bones voodoo percussion palpitates and perspirates off the blood red lips and glossy skin of the woman with a heart as cold as ice as the prophet stumbles running through the cracked back roads, his vision darkened like the twilit skies.

"Barefoot Lady" is a rest from the heaviness, but the sweat and snake dance has not ended but merely taken a shortcut, another route at the crossroads. The prophet is chasing and following the "country woman" through the "sugarcane". The "old fool" is going crazy as his heart and senses beat in time with the women singers and the drums.

"Twilight Zone" is the darkest hour before dawn. The prophet is weary and sorrowed. He is in deep meditation. He is in the "outer limits of a land unknown." The ghosts of the city are visiting his fevered brain. He hallucinates. The Sun Ra-space saxophone echoes, bells and cymbals clash, and the soul singers chant "In--the--TWI-LIGHT!" in a trance. Their moans descend downward as they exorcise the demons of their possession.

"The Patriotic Flag-Waiver" has the children's choir mock singing "My country 'tis of thee" to the patriotic drum rolls while the prophet recites his satire of "Uncle Sam".

It is now a gray and pale morning before sunrise as the "Lonesome Guitar Strangler" drags his drunken, junkie-ridden body through the dirt, mud, and rain of the alleys and gutters on his way out of town, "so full of hate" and cursing the town to its ultimate doom and destruction, spinning his white hot free jazz guitar racket into eternity.

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