As ambitious in its conception as anything Dr. John has recorded over his career, N’awlinz: Dis, Dat or D’udda endeavors to capture the spirit of New Orleans’ rich musical history as it has evolved throughout the last 150 years.
Joined by a massive handpicked cast of collaborators, spanning both genres and generations, with everyone from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and B.B King to Willie Nelson and Randy Newman making appearances, the album feels like a triumphant procession of the talented artists who’ve laid a stone at music’s altar over the years.
From the majestically doleful “When the Saints Go Marching In”—recast as a mournfully foreboding gospel dirge instead of the stereotypically upbeat renditions you heard as a child—to a bouncy remake of the blues standard “St. James Infirmary,” Dr. John reinterprets (and reinvents) the bedrock forms from which he has drawn so vibrantly over the past 45 years.
Some cuts, like his slick soul-pop rendition of “Marie Laveau,” don’t work as well as others, like the comparably raw, party sing-along atmosphere of “Chicken Le Pas.” The production, though bold and vibrant in texture, could possibly benefit from a bit less gloss, and while this is obviously a labor of love for the Doctor to bring aboard so many of his friends and mentors, it’s possible that the concept would have been better served by having John do more alone.
While he captures much of New Orleans’ legacy through the character of his arrangements and integrity of his performance, he ultimately falls short of capturing in 19 songs what volumes of music couldn’t adequately address.