Dr. John – Mercernary (2006)
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Dr John - Mercernary

Being a lifelong, unrepentant music geek, I sometimes forget how my perspective on this or that performer is very different from that shared by most of the non-geek population. Case in point, Dr. John, who — to me — is a certified legend everyone’s heard of. I realize that this probably isn’t terribly accurate; nonetheless, when confronted with an innocent question like “Dr. John? Who’s he?” I don’t know how to do much other than blink.

Here’s the long and the short of it: If you’ve never listened to the music of Dr. John, you have committed a grievous sin against your ears and your soul, and you need to correct your mistake as soon as possible (like, say, the end of this post). And as far as I’m concerned, there’s no adequate short answer to the question “Who’s Dr. John?” — although my esteemed colleague Jason’s response, “He was the piano player for The Muppets,” is pretty funny.

Mercernary, the good Doctor’s latest offering, focuses on the songs of Johnny Mercer, another guy you’ve probably never heard of, but whose songs you most certainly should have heard at some point. No, seriously — “Moon River”? “That Old Black Magic”? “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby”? You’ve heard these songs before. You probably won’t recognize them as performed by Dr. John, but as my buddy Pete always says, if you don’t have anything new to add to someone else’s song, don’t bother recording it.

On the surface, at least to those of us who grew up hearing supper-club renditions of Mercer’s songs, giving them the N’awlins gris-gris treatment might seem like an odd decision. It works, though; not only because Dr. John is a tremendously underrated interpreter of other people’s songs, but because these tunes have deeper, dirtier roots than most of us remember. You don’t need to be a Mercer fan to appreciate these recordings — in fact, if you’re a purist, they might take some getting used to. Start off with “Blues in the Night” (download) and “Come Rain or Come Shine” (download).