.
http://assets-s3.rollingstone.com/assets/images/album_review/4a3f988cfcde9d27f105ad63cae01856d7771ec2.jpg Gris-Gris

Dr. John

Gris-Gris

Rolling Stone: star rating
Community: star rating
5 4 0
October 14, 1999

Put on Dr. John's 1968 debut, Gris-Gris, and no matter where you are, it becomes nighttime on a lonely bayou and you are the unwelcome, painfully out-of-place tourist. Every living thing is moving stealthily and slowly. Along comes a croaky old critter, snake-oil-selling the power of his gris-gris, talking about the way he gonna make somebody pay, the damage he can do with dust and potions and the mists of the swamp night. "Put gris-gris on your doorstep/Soon you'll be in the gutter," he sings. "Melt you like butter/I can make you stutter."

Gris-Gris is the New Orleans appropriation of California psychedelia, dressed up in Mardi Gras finery and spiced like a gut-busting gumbo. Pianist Mac Rebennack, who created the character Dr. John while working as a session keyboardist in Los Angeles, ran it down just right: Casting himself as an all-seeing brujo equipped with cures for common ailments and metaphysical quandaries, he became a Cajun Captain Trips, a flamboyant ringmaster who dispensed advice and cutthroat commentary with a pinch of French Quarter mumbo jumbo.

Gris-Gris, which was produced by the pianist Harold Battiste and features many of New Orleans' finest, is a spacey glass-bottom-boat tour of the myths and legends of the city's midnight realm. Though Dr. John later established himself as a persuasive interpreter of New Orleans R&B — the music of the Meters, Professor Longhair and James Booker — at this point he was more of a raconteur, calling out the local characters ("Mama Roux" is immortalized in an Afro-Cuban pulse) and those affiliated with the secret societies, unspooling fragmented tales over droning, repetitive, intoxicating vamps.

Of these, the album-closing "I Walk on Gilded Splinters" endures as a classic — a masterpiece of vibe that has retained its aura even after being sampled and covered every which way. An ambling processional framed by a simple pentatonic guitar melody, it's everything you want in voodoo music: a feast of pummeling drums, swirling ethereal voices and the patient, mumbled incantations of Dr. John, all coalescing into the sound of a solemn, revelatory ritual.

prev
Album Review Main Next

ADD A COMMENT

Community Guidelines »
loading comments

loading comments...

COMMENTS

Sort by:
    Read More
    Daily Newsletter

    Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

    Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
    marketing partners.

    X

    We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

    Song Stories

    “Santa Monica”

    Everclear | 1996

    After his brother and girlfriend both died of drug overdoses, Art Alexakis -- depressed and hooked on drugs himself -- jumped off the Santa Monica Pier in California, determined to die. "It was really stupid," said the Everclear frontman, who would further explore his personal emotional journey in the song "Father of Mine." "I went under the water. Then I said, 'I don't wanna die.'" The song, declaring "Let's swim out past the breakers/and watch the world die," was intended as a manifesto for change, Alexakis said. "Let the world do what it's gonna do and just live on our own."

    More Song Stories entries »
    www.expandtheroom.com