Late last week, the music world was saddened by the loss of New Orleans legend Dr. John. But while the Night Tripper’s soul has now left his physical body, he left behind one last project for us to remember him by—one final, brand new album that will soon receive a posthumous release. Both the title and release date for the album have yet to be determined.
According to a report by Rolling Stone, Dr. John (born Mac Rebennack) recorded the new album over the course of last year with help from guitarist Shane Theriot at New Orleans’ Esplanade Studios as well as his and Theriot’s homes. The new LP features “a mix of new originals, country-tinged covers and reworked Dr. John classics recorded with a series of hand-picked New Orleans session musicians.”
As Rolling Stone notes, Dr. John began recording this final album back in 2017. As his health took a turn for the worse over the course of 2018, he pushed through the pain to ensure he could finish it.
“It was really difficult for him to deliver a performance,” explains Esplanade studio engineer Misha Kachkachishvili. By the spring of 2018, Mac’s health had returned to some degree—enough that he was able to finish the album in a makeshift studio in his own home.
The album, which is “anchored largely in traditional country music,” features several timeless country tunes including an “Old Time Religion” duet with Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash‘s “Guess Things Happen That Way”, “Funny How Time Slips Away”, and several covers of songs by Hank Williams, a longtime hero of Dr. John’s. It also features four new original tracks and new arrangements of his own classics like “Such A Night” and “I Walk On Guilded Splinters” (featuring Rickie Lee Jones), as well as an additional guest spot by fellow New Orleans legend Aaron Neville on a cover of Traveling Wilburys‘ “End of the Line”.
However, beyond Nelson, Jones, and Neville, the album is light on feaured guests.
“I didn’t want to load the record down with guests,” explains Theriot, who made sure Rebennack’s piano and vocals were the focal point in the mix. “He’s right there for everybody to hear.”
Dr. John was reportedly “elated” with the results. “Mac got to hear it and live with it and make suggestions,” Theriot says. “This was one of his creations.” As Theriot explains to Rolling Stone of the day he played Rebennack the completed LP last December, “We sat and listened to everything twice. He was singing along and had a big grin on his face. Then he walked me out to my car, stared at me and said, ‘I’m glad. I made the right choice.’ And then he hugged and kissed me on the cheek.”
The entire project was completed before Dr. John passed away. However, Theriot notes that he seemed to recognize it would be his last as the recording process went on.
“Towards the beginning, I don’t think Mac realized it would probably be his last record, but towards the end, I think he knew,” he explains. “It would break my heart because he would come to my house, and I knew he wasn’t feeling great, and Mac’s work ethic, he was old school; he grew up doing five sets a night. And he told me on several occasions, he would say, ‘Whatever we gotta do, we gotta do it. We gotta get it done, Sha-zane. Whatever we gotta do to finish this motherf*cker, we gotta finish it.”
Stay tuned for more details about the final Dr. John album as they become available.
[H/T Rolling Stone]