On a Sunday evening when the Grammy Awards took center stage in Los Angeles, a pair of legendary New Orleans acts, the Neville Brothers and Dr. John, were the center of attention in St. Louis, turning in memorable performances at the Sheldon Concert Hall.
After receiving a Grammy award hours earlier for Best Contemporary Blues Album, Dr. John took the stage first at Mardi Gras Mambo," the Friends of the Sheldon winter benefit concert.
Dr. John's musical roots go back to the 1950s. Under the name Mac Rebennack, he was an in-demand musician for recording sessions backing legends such as Professor Longhair. Rebennack reinvented himself a decade later as Dr. John, blending Big Easy second line R&B, funk, jazz and gospel into a unique sound that still propels his music today.
Backed by his stalwart Lower 911 band — baritone sax legend Ronnie Cuber, guitarist John Fohl, bassist David Barard and drummer Herman Ernest III — Dr. John showcased his keyboard skills on grand piano and Hammond B-3 organ throughout the set, singing in his distinctive, raspy growl.
The good Doctor played a fistful of tunes from the Grammy-winning City that Care Forgot." The title cut and songs such as We Gettin' There" reflected the balance between anger and optimism that still pervades post-Katrina New Orleans and its environs.
Dr. John kicked the energy up later in the set with a nod to some of his classic recordings, I Walk On Gilded Splinters" and Right Place, Wrong Time," then concluded with an encore Lay My Burden Down," a rousing gospel number that had the crowd on its feet cheering.
After intermission, the Neville Brothers — Art, Charles, Aaron and Cyril — took the spotlight for another round of music with an essential and distinctive New Orleans flavor.
Like Dr. John, the Nevilles have been part of Big Easy music since the 1950s, when eldest brother Art Neville recorded Mardi Gras Mambo" while still in his teens. The four Nevilles started recording together officially in 1977, and although they all have their own solo projects, their Sheldon performance focused on Neville Brothers classics.
Vocalist Aaron Neville, who has gained acclaim for his many solo recordings, showcased his distinctive, soulful tenor vocals on his own 1966 hit, Tell It Like It Is," as well as turning in an inspired version of Amazing Grace" late in the set.
This story appears courtesy of St. Louis Jazz Notes by Dean Minderman.
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