Tuesday, December 18, 2012

143 Gris Gris. What in the hell is this?

Album: Gris Gris
Artist: Dr John
Year: 1968
Genre: Funk


1. Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya
2. Danse Kalinda Ba Doom
3. Mama Roux
4. Danse Fambeaux
5. Croker Courtbullion
6. Jump Sturdy
7. I Walk On Guilded Splinters

Well this isn't what I was expecting at all.

I've heard some Dr John in the past, as part of this countdown and in other listening. I've also heard some other New Orleans music so I went into this with some preconceived expectations. I was expecting funk and something groovy. I was looking for some toe-tapping music in the vein of Aiko Aiko which would move my feet and shake my bones. I wasn't expecting weirdness. But weirdness is what I got. 

Goodness this is strange. It sounds like Dr John doesn't want to move your feet as much as claim your soul. It's eirie and spooky and full of creepy chanting backing vocals. The good Doctor himself sings in a disembodied whisper that makes him sound like the last person you'd want in attendance if you were ailing in some way. The musicians playing along are all mixed low and echoey as if they're not in the studio as much as they're on another spiritual plain being summoned by John's demonic vocals.

Much of the vocals are in English but there is French as well although it's not romantic French that would woo any lover from this dimension. Track two features the words "Danse Kalinda Ba Boom" (which Google translate thinks is Indonesian) repeated over and over again by frenetic singers and it sounds for all the world like the backing music to that scene in every cheap horror film where they're preparing the heroine for sacrifice. If you played it to me and asked who was responsible there is no way I would have ever guessed. There's none of Dr John's piano playing or distinctive voice. 

Crocker Courtbullion sounds to me like it features a harpsichord along with a flute odd percussion twangy electric guitar and general muted weirdness. If I had to guess I'd suggest it was Frank Zappa or Captain Beefheart or more likely the two working together. The collection of singers all chanting the tracks title in a silly voice that sounds like an evil muppet doesn't help. God help me it's bizarre. 

I'd be writing this off as an inaccessible oddity if it weren't for the final track. I walk on Guilded Splinters is brilliant. It's funky and snaky and features John's best singing on the entire album. Someone even took the time to perform a quick exorcism on the backing vocals before it was recorded and the departing spirits took some of the musical weirdness with them. It's magnificently moody but catchy at the same time and I have no idea why it's hidden away at the end of the album. I wonder how many people missed it because they turned off  after the lunacy of tracks one to six?

If the entire of this album was like the final track I would be raving about it. If the last track was like the first six I'd still be shaking my head in bewilderment. As it is I can't recommend it but I do have a song to add to a folder of miscellaneous greatest hits I'm compiling from the top 500 so far.

Influenced by: Looking at a swamp while on drugs
Influenced: Psycadelic funk in general

Highlight: I walk on Gilded Splinters
Lowlight: Jumpy Sturdy

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Call me straight but since I never got into smack or LSD I don't get drug influenced music because it sounds synthesised and hybrid on the totality of mind-body as nature and Nature intended. Only Bird, Ray Charles and Miles Davis could do drugs and evolve as artists in their originality."

-Interesting perspective. Not sure I agree with the final claim though.

So do you walk on gilded splinters? Let me know below.

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