Revolution #165, May 24, 2009

Check It Out

“City That Care Forgot” by Dr. John and The Lower 911

I just came across a great CD put out last year, “City That Care Forgot,” by New Orleans musician Dr. John and The Lower 911, Doc’s band. Released during the presidential campaign that was supposed to convince us that some change was gonna come through the election, Doc begins “Promises, Promises” with the line “The road to the White House is paved with lies...” That particular cut is a duet with Willie Nelson. But Doc is just getting warmed up. On the song “Dream Warrior,” co-written by Doc and the Rev. Goat Carson, Doc sings:

So U tell yo Miss Billie Holiday
The Strange Fruit of today
Ain’t hangin from no tree, layin on the ground
Left to rot right where they drowned
Like monuments to some slave’s pride

The anger and rage that comes through this album is something that grabs you and shakes you. And more, the music is funky as hell, too, or as Doc says, fonky. I’ve been listening to his “Gris Gris” album back in the late 1960s and some of the music on “City That Care Forgot” harkens back to that landmark album. But this is the best music I’ve heard the Doc record—period. There are cuts on the album where Eric Clapton adds some searing guitar breaks as a counterpoint that accents and emphasizes Doc’s cool, deliberate anger. New Orleans Trumpeter Terence Blanchard adds some great work on a couple of tracks, and Ani DiFranco sings backup on the title track, a song that also pulls no punches.

Another song I gotta highlight is “Say Whut?” Check out some of the lyrics:

They tell me “forgive,” they tell me “forget”
Ain’t nobody charged for the murders yet
Half of the story ain’t never been told
All these “drowning victims” full of bullet holes
Say whut, say whut whut?
Blackwater rollin’ like they’re in Iraq
Shootin’ women and children in the back
Puttin’ in the I-10 guess it wasn’t enough
All down Claiborne dead bodies all lined up
Say whut, say whut whut?

Doc also tears into the local power structure in New Orleans for how it uses Black culture as a tourist attraction, but then comes down on the masses for the “crime” of having a traditional “second line” funeral (a jazz funeral which celebrates the life of the deceased). The song is titled “My People Need a Second Line,” and it starts off as a mournful ballad that brings tears to your eyes. Then, near the end, Doc brings in New Orleans second-liners James “12” Andrews on trumpet and Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and they bust into a full-on second-line celebration. While this raucous music is blasting, Doc comes up in the background and gives the powers hell for their attacking second-line funerals.

Now, Doc (his real name is Mac Rebennack) is no revolutionary, which is evident on this album. Much of the anger voiced by Doc and others is confined within electoral politics. This stands in stark contrast to what even some of these songs pose as systematic problems. There’s an undercurrent of wondering ‘how can they treat Americans this way?’ on a couple of songs, for instance, on “We Gettin’ There,” Doc sings “This ain’t the Sudan or Lebanon, It’s New Orleans if you care.” While the anger expressed about the treatment of the masses in New Orleans is righteous, the masses in Sudan and Lebanon are oppressed by the same system and are our brothers and sisters, people we have more in common with than we do with our rulers. On “Promises, Promises,” Doc and Willie Nelson sing the chorus “the truth will set you free,” which sounds good to a lot of people, but this has two sides to it: we need to know the truth about what’s happening to the people in New Orleans, but on the other side, it’s going to take a powerful struggle for the people to set themselves free, with leadership from their vanguard party. That said, this album is a powerful voice speaking bitterness about the ongoing crimes being brought down on the masses in New Orleans. Props to Dr. John and The Lower 911 and all those who contributed to this album!

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