You have to consider this somewhat of a comeback album for Dr. John. Although he made two solo-piano albums for the tiny Clean Cuts label in the early Eighties, this is his first major-label release since City Lights appeared on A&M more than a decade ago. That’s not to say he’s been out of circulation, as his piano has graced recordings by B.B. King, Johnny Adams, Hank Crawford and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, among others, during the interim. In fact, as this release demonstrates, he’s a much stronger instrumentalist than he was ten years ago.
As you might well expect from the title, In a Sentimental Mood is a collection of torch songs and standards. But don’t accuse Dr. John of romantic indulgence just yet. Though this approach may come as a surprise to those who still associate him with the feathers, glitter and hoodoo dust of the early 1970s, it allows him to display what a complete musician he is.
Seasoned jazz and blues listeners will immediately compare the overall sound of the album to the moody Ray Charles sound of the early 1960s. Producer Tommy LiPuma deftly layers a lush string section, brassy horn arrangements and a swinging rhythm section behind Dr. John’s sparkling piano and talking vocals. This combination is especially effective on the gloomy “Black Night” and “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying,” both of which underscore Dr. John’s debt to Charles Brown and Ray Charles.
Rickie Lee Jones makes a guest appearance on “Makin’ Whoopee!” and she and Dr. John are both in fine form as they cuddle and coo their way through one of the campiest songs of all time. While tunes like “My Buddy,” “In a Sentimental Mood” and “Candy” might seem to have come off a set list at a piano bar, Dr. John manages to keep from dragging, and the swirling string section makes things sound especially sweet. While Dr. John would be foolhardy to duplicate this candlelight style in the future, it certainly works this time around.