51 of 51 people found the following review helpful
on January 8, 2000
If the only Dr. John stuff you've heard is his more trad New Orleans stuff, you may be unprepared for this amazing debut. This album sounds like it was recorded from the deep of a voodoo night! Specifically,it conjures up a gris gris(voodoo) ritual put on record with great percussion, spooky music that goes from something unbelievably funky(Mama Roux) to something almost barouque(the second and fifth tracks for instance) rooted in a different, darker side of New Orleans than, let's say, Fats Domino or Allen Touissaint! Swampy is a good adjective to describe it-echoey and delirious are two others! Vocally the arrangements are amazing with Dr. John taking center stage around both men and women singers weaving great lines and sometimes making animal sounds! The character of Dr. John (a real gris gris doctor from the 1800's) as well as all things hoodoo are the basis for all the lyrics. The musicians are playing very free and at times "out" so it may be a little too weird for some ears. But if you have adventerous tastes, this album belongs in your collection because there is definitley no album like it. It is evocative, funky, DANGEROUS, and, best of all, musically brilliant. You won't be disappointed.
73 of 80 people found the following review helpful
on May 26, 2000
There've been various reissues of this album over the years -- Alligator, Repertiore, and now Collector's Choice -- I have no idea how this particular CD edition stands up -- Alligator's was great, Repertiore's sounded like it was mastered off shoddy worn vinyl and then de-noised to such an extent that the sound lost nearly all of its booming depths, and Collector's Choice (though again, I haven't heard this particular version) have as a label distinguished themselves over the past 7 or 8 years by allowing cut-rate remastering talent to come in and ruin some of the 1960s best and most obscure albums (Skip Spence's OAR, the United States of America album, etc.) -- whatever: forewarned is five-armed. As for the album itself, I've safeguarded an original ATCO pressing through countless rent-strikes, burglaries and relocations, and it's one of the few I'd actually admit into that stupid Desert Island Disc rostrum. It's worth reading Rebennack's shambling autobiography to get the larger story, but to wit: a bunch of seasoned New Orleans 50s studio vets, relocated to Los Angeles after many difficult narcotics travails and incarcerations, take advantage of (a) their Atlantic/Ertugen Bros. studio connex, and (b) the ubiquitously gullible hippy thing happening all around them, and come up with a psychedelic voodoo medicine show which (no matter how much of a joke some of them may later make it out to be) is far too genuinely steeped in authenic New Orleans culture and real studio chops to relegate it to the wastebin destined for so many other 'novelty' acts of the time. Chinese-water-torture percussion, snake-slick slide guitar, and Dr. John, the feathered crock-o-the-block himself, chanting fluid paregoric incantations to astral entities the rest of us wouldn't want to come within a light-year of. Scary, and late-night, and positively medieval in places. There have always been certain albums which make evil seem downright fun, but this seething cauldron is their king.
33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on July 2, 1999
Music to conjure memories I never had. Absolutely primal, the only things that I've heard to compare are maybe a couple of Hank Williams songs, and, oddly, Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures and Amon Duul II's Phallus Dei. Music that you feel has been around since the beginning, lurking somewhere, waiting to be played. The performances make me see shadows dancing across the New Orleans graveyards, where the tombs are above ground. "Walk On Gilded Splinters," forget about it - Humble Pie butchered it in a really fun way, so that's alright, and I think Johnny Jenkins did a version, but no one ever matched the smoldering mood that Mac Rebennack's band managed to give to it here. It's like they're playing it in a cave on the edge of a swamp or something. The rest of the album has the same mood: percussive, tribal, old European, very much a product of its place.
It's no surprise the album's out of print, obscure psychadelic classic that it is and record companies being what they are. Still, it's a shame. Gris-Gris is a masterpiece.
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on January 23, 2003
The first time I heard this record, I thought: "This is awful: Poorly recorded, out-of-tune instruments and voices, uninspired and pretentious tracks..." I was looking for something like 'Gumbo' -one of my favourite records of all time- and found something completely different instead: No funk, little Blues and almost no piano.
However, after some time, I gave it another try -without any prejudice- and was gladly surprised. I had been mistaken... Next time I realized it, I was wanting to hear 'Walk On Guilded Splinters' and 'Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya-ya' again and again. I read a few things about the great Dr. John and found out that actually those songs (that are not traditional, but composed by himself) were used FOR REAL in vooodoo gatherings and even rites! They sure transmit a very 'haunting' mood, to say the least. Was I hoodooed? -Shivering-
To me, those tracks are worth the entire album, although 'Danse Fambeaux' and 'Mama Roux' are also interesting. The reason why, having such classic tracks, I do not give it the top mark is because I feel that the album is a little too short and uneven. Anyhow, it is still a landmark album for Dr. John that was a very risky bet at the time of its release (Ahmet Ertegun, boss of the record company, hated it).
I bet those sessions were conceived with some mixture of true spirituality and humour. These days, when I feel psychedelic, I play Jimi Hendrix's '1983' or 'Gris-Gris' if I want to shiver a little bit...
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on May 30, 2001
I have also reviewed Babylon, the companion cd to Gris-Gris, and have done a bit of editorializing. This cd deserves only the mention of the musics, Dr. John's "high concept" reaches musical fruition with a swirling array of avant-guard funk, down & Dirty swampy grooves,and Afro-Caraiba poli-ritmos ,performed on mostly organic/acustic instrumentation( outside of the obligatory electric guitar, & electric piano/organ)..... the 2 long "narcotic" tracks, Gris-gris" & "I walk...Splinters" lure you into a trance-like world, where the 2 "danses" evoke a Hoodoo whirling dervish....."WORLD musics " before the frase was coined! And the strictly New Orleans "Mama Roux" is a second line strut! No "blues -influenced" stuff here, Africa comes home on the drum, and not the "blue-note". Rough, ragged & poorly produced, the emotion of the musics shines through like the healing rays of a new day's sun! Dr. John's finest hour- he WAS inna right place at the right time, and gris-gris is the legacy!
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2000
Been collecting albums from this era for about 20 years and don't know how I missed this, until summer 2000 that is.
Love it. The vodoo- psychadelica-blues mix is spooky but magnetic. It also dates well, because not many people were using psychadela in this way, so it comes across as strikingly fresh. Frankly, there's not much else I've found that sounds quite like this, and beleive me, I am a hard-core record collector that seeks out underground stuff.
I could to an anaylsis of how the album works, but don't want to kill the vibe for you.
So, find out for yourself: This is a really great album to play very late at night. It creates such a stange atmosphere, as if Dr John were doing the voodoo rituals right in your living room. Stoned-out, night shift FM DJs in 1968 must have had a ROYAL BLAST with Gris-Gris.
Don't buy it if you're looking for anything generic.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on March 26, 2001
It has been over 30 years since I first heard this collection of music, and I believe it could go another 30 and not lose a beat. If Mac Rabenneck and cohorts were guilty of cashing in on the rage for psychedelia way back in 68, at least they came by it honest and with a fierce originality that was...and remains...all their own. I've slipped this CD on when young (20-30 somethings) friends are visiting, and they flip. They're not hearing retro-psychedelia, or gimmicky sound effects, as some reviewers might suggest. They're hearing something primal and hot, borne of a Louisianna bayou night with fireflies in the mangroves and barely-perceived forms flitting through the shadows.
Yeah, lower the lights, burn a few candles, and sit back with this one cranked.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
FIRST, An important note: Amazon has a policy of grouping ALL reviews of ALL versions of a release – including (often – but not always ) remastered albums together. That is the case here. Though a 2014 release you will see 40 reviews before mine – going back to 2000!. I always recommend the readers sort by “newest first” and then look at date of review and which version the reviewer is discussing. With that said, here is my review of the 2014 remastered version from Real Gone Music.
This new reissue from the Real Gone Music label (headed by some of the folks who worked for the Rhino label in their heyday, helps fill in the catalogue by NOLa music legend Mac Rebenack – better known to the world as “Dr. John”. The purpose of the reissue – as explained by music author Richie Untermeyer in the four-page essay (in type face that you can actually read!) inside the eight-page insert – is because the album has been out of print for many years. Yes, it contains one of Dr. John’s big hits (well semi-hit), “Mama Roux”, but, otherwise it’s so different from his other material – with “psychedelic” sounds even stranger than those Jimi Hendrix produced – that this CD should certainly not be your introduction to “Mac”. “Jump Sturdy” is so “free form, jazz” that it sounds like something Lester Bowie would release. The original LP was short – just 33 minutes, with seven tracks – and so is the CD. No bonus materials here. Real Gone does some real nice packaging on their reissues but, sadly, this is not one of those. As noted above the notes by Untermeyer are informative and readable but the font size on back “insert card” in the jewel box (the only place that the track list and original liner notes are presented) is so incredibly small that it is truly unreadable except with a strong magnifying glass. (Remember that the original 10-point font was on a 12 inch Lp; now it’s reduced to a 5x5 inch CD). Surely, Rock Beat could have reprinted the text inside. The CD label replicates the Lps original ATCO label. The sound is fine; I didn’t notice a big improvement over the LP (which I have somewhere in my collection.
So this CD gets an “It’s OK” rating from me. Not a CD I’ll listen to a lot, and I LOVE Dr. John!) and for the less-than-ideal packaging. That means – in Amazon’s system – Three Stars
I hope you found this review both informative and helpful.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 21, 2007
I only have a few Dr. John records, but this is my favorite of them by a long shot. It's also probably the weirdest record I own, so those looking for a traditional record better go elsewhere. It's got bits of New Orleans jazz, some R&B, and some stuff I can't even dream of classifying, such as my favorite Dr. John song, (I Walk on) Gilded Splinters. People talk a lot about extended epic songs that came out around this time: Stairway to Heaven, Free Bird, Won't Get Fooled Again, Light My Fire - and while I do enjoy all of those songs, I think this (and the Fairport Convention's Matty Groves, while I'm sticking up for under-appreciated musicians) deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as them. It ain't your average song though, I can tell you that: really, it's more like an invocation to some evil voodoo demon. If you think I'm exaggerated, you obviously haven't heard the song: half of it is taken up by chants and Dr. John's seemingly improvised Spanish lyrics (which include the phrase "Padre Diablo", to give you an idea of what you're dealing with here). That bass clarinet melody is haunting and ghostly; and those deep, booming drums send chills down my spine each time. Oh, and the lyrics themselves are excellent: the whole song is 7:37 of genuinely frightening menace. I was about eight when I first heard it, and it scared me out of my wits. So even though I've got no clue what "Kon, kon, the kiddy kon kon" means, or even if that's the real lyric, I still love to chant along with it. Dr John the voodoo priest! That image also shows up on my #2 pick, Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya, which takes the approach of Gilded Splinters and adds a folksy edge. There are actually some accessible songs here, but even those have strong New Orleans elements: Jump Sturdy is another great song, with its huge chorus, cool lyrics, and jangling mandolin; and I just love the laid-back Mama Roux. And the Gilded Splinters-like Croker Courtbulion is a good... invocation, I guess you'd say, as well. Now I'm not a fan of the record's two "Danses" - both strike me as rather silly, especially compared to (I Walk on) Gilded Splinters (which is easily one of the 50 best songs I've heard). But I really like this album, and if you want to hear something weird I have to recommend it to you. If you know Dr. John for '70s hits like Right Place, Wrong Time; Such a Night or What Goes Around (Comes Around), or maybe for his take on Iko Iko, you're in for a real surprise with this one. It's dark, mysterious, intriguing, unique music.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on April 10, 2004
I've owned this album for many years now, I consider it to be one of the most raw & unique albums ever recorded. It makes you feel as if you're sitting in a run-down New Orleans shack watching a voodoo ritual. Tunes like Cris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya, Danse Fambeaux, Jump Sturdy & the ever so haunting I Walk On Guided Splinters makes this album a must have for any eclectic music fan.
If you ever have the chance to play it for some drugged friends, do it! And watch the expressions change as they steadily get more and more freaked out as the album progresses, ultimately climaxing on I Walk On Guided Splinters. The third "'Ti Alberta" seems to trip people out the most, ask them if they see any spirits too, it's a nice touch.
Anyway, go buy & enjoy the fun spookiness that is Dr. John's Gris Gris.