on August 3, 2006
Dr. John's "City Lights" showcases his late '70's transition from his earlier "Voodoo Rock" period into his emergence as both a composer/performer of smooth, more sophisticated (yet funky) music and interpreter of the American songbook. The majority of the tracks on this CD were composed as part of the good doctor's highly creative colloboration with the late Doc Pomus. Highlights from this CD are "Sonata/He's A Hero," "Rain," and the title track, "City Lights." The mood this long out of print album creates is that of a lonely, rainy city night with an optimistic hope for a brighter tomorrow. Besides the wonderful music, the album art is very cool, also, (I keep my LP copy of this on display in my office!) I highly recommend this to anyone who loves music and especially to anyone who is a fan of Dr. John. Also recommended is "City Lights'" companion album, "Tango Palace," which was recorded during the same time period.
on November 25, 2008
It's long been out of print having made its vinyl debut in 1978 (LP copies selling for over $20 and the import edition of the CD sells for in excess of $10), but now you can own a 2008 brand new re-mastered edition (no bonus tracks) of Dr. John's City Lights, courtesy of Verve Records. The legendary producer Tommy LiPuma has been steadily re-releasing vintage 1970's recordings that he either produced or enjoyed, like many of the Blue Thumb and Stewart Levin's Chisa label albums by the Crusaders, Gabor Szabo, Hugh Masekela, Roy Ayers, and others, thus this LiPuma-produced recording is another welcome addition to the Verve reissue catalog.
City Lights is arguably one of Dr. John's most overlooked recordings, which is hard to imagine as the quality of session players are the crème de la crème of the then New York City recording scene. On drums is the great Steve Gadd, co-producer Hugh McCracken on guitar, guitarist John Tropea (whose credits include superlative work with Deodato, as well as his own solo efforts), bassist Will Lee certainly needs no introduction, and the sorely missed Richard Tee on keyboards. The horn section features Ronnie Cuber and David Sanborn, who takes several solos throughout, and background vocalists George Jones, Tammy Lynn, and Alvin Robinson shine. Man, why don't they make records like this anymore? This fine album is kind of New York City meets the Big Easy; sumptuously funky, somewhat slick, but superbly tight. LiPuma's top-notch production values never interfere with the artistic intent and Dr. John fits the groove like a glove. Dr. John is totally in charge and teaches his New York City session playing pupils multiple Crescent City tricks.
Eight songs are included, each and everyone written by Dr. John, one co-written by Bobby Charles ("Wild Honey"), another co-authored by Alvin Robinson ("Fire of Love"), and three by Dr. John and his old buddy and New York City roommate, the legendary Doc Pomus. The many highlights include the opening Pomus/Rebenack "Dance the Night Away With You" with its second-line horn section firmly in place. On Dr. John's "Street Side" we get to hear Dr. John and Tee blend keyboards to perfection, as they never get in each other's way and man does Sanborn wail on this one, plus Will Lee and Gadd just punch the groove! "Wild Honey" is right in the pocket too; listen to Will Lee kick the bottom in the pants from beginning to end on this extremely funky affair, where the background vocalists ever so slightly add so much to the roux. Even Claus Ogerman's gorgeous strings lay a perfect backdrop to Dr. John's "Rain" where Sanborn once again sets sail. "Snake Eyes" is near brilliant, with it's reptile-like twists and turns, fueled by the Dr.'s excellent vocals and lyric, plus John Tropea's guitar solo is the precise vehicle that builds this outstanding track to its final intensity, as well as Dr. John's and McCraken's smart horn arrangements. "Fire of Love," co-written by Alvin Robinson, definitely could have easily been covered by the group Stuff, mainly due to the presence of keyboardist Richard Tee, as it has that classic band sound and feel. The last two tracks are co-authored by the two Doc's (Pomus and John). The first one, "Sonata" (where Dr. John's piano introduces the theme) segues into "He's a Hero." Once again check out the nifty horn charts and the tight rhythm section. Dr. John takes this one out (similarly as the "Sonata" intro) with a cool piano solo and duets with one of the horn players; it's an extremely tasty segment. The finale and title track is a ballad that is introduced by Ogerman's strings, Dr. John's fine vocals, Tropea's sweet guitar licks, and Tee's signature keyboards.
I don't know if you kept count, but the highlights I just wrote about include all eight tracks on City Lights. Obviously a lot went into the making of this unique Dr. John recording. Even with all the non-Big Easy involvement by the producer and musicians, this album still has that Crescent City vibe, which is a testament to Dr. John, as all of the flavors blend so sweetly. Hats off to Verve's Tommy LiPuma for re-releasing this almost forgotten album! Now let's hope LiPuma also re-releases the follow-up to City Lights (which pretty much has the same assembled crew), that being 1979's Tango Palace, which similarly made its appearance on vinyl on the same A&M subsidiary, Horizon. Enjoy!
Bob Putignano: [...]
This is one of Dr Johns lesser known albums. It came out in the late 70s but it still has the New Orleans sounds on it. There are some really good tracks here, like "City Lights',co- written with Doc Pomus, which is a bluesy/spiritual song. If you are a fan of Dr John then I think that you will enjoy adding this to your collection. It is by no means as powerful as the Gumbo album, but it is an enjoyable listen still. Dr John fans will like it, if your new to the Doctor start with Gumbo.
on August 4, 2013
I have no idea why this release wasn't more successful and why it took so long to appear on CD. (I bought the album -- yes, the album -- not too long after it was released. I found it in the cutout bin.) I think this album has a more polished feel than many of his others -- not that there is anything wrong with that rougher, funkier, dirtier sound, of course! -- more along the lines of "In A Sentimental Mood" and "Afterglow" in feel, even though these are new songs and not Dr. John's versions of older songs. (Tommy LiPuma produced all three.) With support by Hugh McCracken, Steve Gadd, Will Lee, Richard Tee, and David Sanborn, you just know this had got to be good -- and it really, really is. When I saw this in an Amazon promo email, the songs immediately came back to mind (even though my turntable has been out of commission for many years now) and I had to have it on CD. Check the previews, then put it in your cart.
on June 12, 2007
This CD holds a very unique place in music because first, its a complete aborration from Dr. John's usual style of work, and second, its a certain kind of music of which there is not enough of in the world. Its difficult to explain, especially since it's unavailable to sample here, and believe me, I went all over the internet until I located a couple of samples. But this album takes you to a special place in music that was long ago, perhapse in some golden era. Somewhere deep within a bustling downtown city, long ago and late at night you might have expected to find this music. It would be the sound you heard way up high on the 21st story of a tall skyscraper, fully dressed in the tux of the times with cufflinks and all. There is a big band that playes the tunes of the times, while everyone is arrayed and dancing in modern fashion of the era. You look out of the window of that 21st story building, and you feel like the city is yours for the night.
This is a portion of the picture that this album's spell casts on me. Its a distinguished album of the upmost quaity, sophisticated and shiny. If you're wondering 'how can this be the product of that voo-doo singer they refer to as the good doctor?' well, I offer no explanation. Simply that it is what it is, a total deviation from what our good doctor was known for, and what's more a delightful one. I am convinced that this little known elegency is Dr. John's best work of all time. Every time I tried to like his work, it just wasn't quite what I wanted, but almost. Well, this is the album that delivered. A complete 5 star. And it goes beyond music because it doesn't just offer one artist's sound, it brings with it a whole experience from one golden age, maybe one that's only found in your imagination.
The songs that leave the biggest impressions are as follows:
"Dance the Night Away" is happy, celebrating about long awaited and finally found love in the nighttime streets of downtown.
"Street Side" is found in the suburbs. Street life. Old brown brick buildings serve as the backdrop walls in this story.
"Rain". A cloudy day, depressed against the grey silhouettes of tall buildings.
"Fire Of Love". Love happily ever after. How can things go wrong? It feels like it will last a lifetime. Everything's going to be alright now.
"Sonata/He's a Hero" is a portrait of one slick character. He lives in the spotlight of the nightlife in top hat and tux. Lady's man, lavish and cool.
"City Lights". A sad finish for today, a lonely one. But a bright hope for tomorrow in this big city of adventure.
And as for the musical side of it, well, its all here. One masterpiece of an artist detailed to the last degree. Even the album art is amazing, synchronized to the music's every step. You may or may not love it, or get as much out of it, but it definitely deserves a place among music's finest, even though alot unknown. Try it.