Digitally remastered two CD set containing a pair of albums from iconic New Orleans singer/songwriter Mac Rebennack AKA Dr. John. By the end of the '90s, Dr John was again embracing the mysterious bubbling gumbo of his Gris-Gris era, which was music to the ears of a generation of younger British musicians such as Paul Weller, Gaz Coombes of Supergrass and Jason Pierce of Spiritualized. While Pierce is credited with producing two tracks here, the lion's share of ANUTHA ZONE was helmed by UK producer legend John Leckie. Although much of the album was recorded in New York in 1998, six tracks were recorded at Abbey Road, with guest appearances from the UK stars above. The following year saw Dr John pay his respects to the music of Duke Ellington - like he says: 'Doesn't sound like these tunes were written by a hundred year-old cat, but they were. You want to know the ticket to immortality, write a bunch of tunes that people keep on singin' and playin'. The package includes 24 page booklet is fully annotated by Paul Myers.
The portrait of John Bull on the cover of this two-CD U.S. release gives an idea for the uninitiated of what to expect from the composer's music: it's intense, single-minded, and even a bit demonic (although the hourglass topped with a skull with a bone in its mouth is apparently an alchemical symbol). Bull was, in the words of an unidentified writer quoted by harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani, "the Liszt of the virginals." The most immediately apparent feature of his music is extreme virtuosity, on display especially in the mind-boggling set of variations entitled Walsingham (CD 1, track 8) and in the galliards of the pavan-galliard pairs. But the opposite pole in Bull's style exerts just as strong a pull: he is fascinated by strict polyphony by what would be called harmonic progressions, and by the close study of the implications contained within small musical units. As spectacular in their way as the keyboard fireworks are, the three separate settings of a tune called Why Ask You? on CD 2 are marvelous explorations of compressed musical gestures.
After the release of Mardi Gras in 1975, Dr. John (aka Mac Rebennack) left Atlantic Records. In late 1977, he signed with A&M's Horizon imprint – a label whose purpose was to showcase the jazz side of its parent company. City Lights is the better of two recordings he cut there. Produced by Tommy LiPuma and Hugh McCracken, City Lights was recorded at New York's Hit Factory Studios with a band of studio aces: drummer Steve Gadd, guitarists Cornell Dupree and John Tropea, bassist Will Lee, and Richard Tee as an additional keyboardist; Arthur Jenkins added percussive effects. The five-piece horn section included both David Sanborn and Ronnie Cuber. What's really startling, however, is the material. For most of the 1970s, Rebennack had been playing well-known tunes by other Crescent City luminaries and pop songwriters, contributing precious little of his material to his albums. On City Lights he wrote or co-wrote everything on the set. His songwriting partner for part of this date was none other than Doc Pomus. The best of both men is captured on the opener, "Dance the Night Away with You," a strolling New Orleans R&B number.
Although he didn't become widely known until the 1970s, Dr. John had been active in the music industry since the late '50s, when the teenager was still known as Mac Rebennack. A formidable boogie and blues pianist with a lovable growl of a voice, his most enduring achievements fused with New Orleans R&B, rock, and Mardi Gras craziness to come up with his own brand of "voodoo" music. He's also quite accomplished and enjoyable when sticking to purely traditional forms of blues and R&B. On record, he veers between the two approaches, making for an inconsistent and frequently frustrating legacy that often makes the listener feel as if "the Night Tripper" (as he's nicknamed himself) has been underachieving.