Long before Mac Rebennack emerged as the king of good-times New Orleans grooves, he had crafted a far spookier persona. As Dr. John the Night Tripper on his 1968 debut album, Gris-Gris, he was an emissary from a demimonde of dank Louisiana swamps, mysterious spells and voodoo chicanery. Now, on his new album, Anutha Zone, Dr. John attempts to summon the twilit magic of that earlier era through a surprising collaboration with a host of contemporary British alchemists. On “John Gris” and “Hello God,” Spiritualized provide atmospheric settings for the good doctor’s cosmological musings. Paul Weller, who enjoyed a 1996 hit in England with a cover of Dr. John’s “I Walk on Gilded Splinters,” returns the favor by providing guitar and vocal assistance on “Party Hellfire” and “I Don’t Wanna Know About Evil.” Members of Supergrass join the fun on “Voices in My Head.” Meanwhile, drummer Clive Deamer of Portishead and keyboardist Martin Duffy of Primal Scream leave trip-hop behind to romp with Dr. John’s band, the Lower 911, on the album-closing “Sweet Home New Orleans.”
The perfect host, Dr. John makes his guests absolutely at home. If Anutha Zone produces no stunning breakthroughs, it also never feels at all contrived. For the most part, the youngsters check the doctor’s tendency to lapse into shtick, while his innate musicality and larger-than-life personality focus their performances. Anutha Zone, then, is a mojo hand across the generational divide, a psychedelic night journey that’s fun for the whole family.