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October 2008

Dr. John And The Lower 911
City That Care Forgot
429

No way was Dr. John was going to let Katrina pass into history without saying what he had to say. But no way could anyone have seen this coming. City That Care Forgot is at once the most fervent, acerbic, livid music Mac Rebennack has ever made; the most eloquent and probably the funkiest, too. Dr. John has never been one for grand statements or even topicality, but he’s rightfully, righteously pissed.

His city, his people, those who made New Orleans home and love it as much as he does, were knocked down hard, but not out: that’s his message. “All you gotta do is want it bad enough,” he repeats in “You Might Be Surprised.” Others have said it in music since the catastrophic events, but perhaps none with as much clarity, force, optimism, fight and, ultimately, love. He wanted this record to be an event, so Dr. John brought in some heavies to augment his regular band: Eric Clapton is swampy and biting on three tracks; Terence Blanchard blows his trumpet with a heart full of soul on two. Willie Nelson lends his voice, Ani DiFranco hers. But it’s not the visitors who get noticed here; it’s the singer who names names and points fingers and demands closure. Dr. John may be the first artist ever to rhyme hurtin’ and Halliburton, but in this “second battle of New Orleans,” as he calls the city’s efforts at resurrection, in this place of “‘drowning victims’ full of bullet holes” (extra quote marks his—to indicate major skepticism), there is care after all.

It comes from those, like Dr. John, who refuse to see their home die, and it’s all wrapped up in quintessential NOLA music that leaves no doubt this city’s still got plenty of living to do.

Originally published in October 2008
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