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Dr. John and the Lower 911: Sippiana Hericane

It seems eminently safe to assert that no one on the planet is better qualified, musically or philosophically, to shape post-Katrina homage to New Orleans than Dr. John (aka Mac Rebennack). The Crescent City is woven into his DNA. He is its chief troubadour, father-confessor, cultural archivist and its head cheerleader. So, it comes as no surprise that Sippiana Hericane, his 25-minute eulogy-cum-prayer for the Big Easy, is so powerfully, nakedly eloquent.

The disc’s seven tracks are constructed around the four-part “Hurricane Suite” that follows the storm’s path from hair-raising warning to harrowing aftermath. Suffice it to say that if you can’t feel each pounding wave, sense each breakwall crack, hear the echo of each pained cry and, ultimately, cheer the suite’s steel-lined resolve for redemption and renewal, then it’s icy seawater filling your veins, not blood. Bookending the suite are a wistful, becalmed reading of Bobby Charles’ environmentally optimistic “Clean Water” and a reworked version of Dr. John’s own “Sweet Home New Orleans,” with refreshed lyrics by his wife Cat Yellen, which bravely promises that the town and the music it made internationally famous are “gonna be back, twice as strong.” (All proceeds from Sippiana Hericane are being divided equally among the New Orleans Musicians Clinic, the Jazz Foundation of America and the Voice of the Wetlands).

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