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Papa Mali


In the late Sixties, New Orleans musician Mac Rebennack reinvented himself as the psychedelic voodoo priest Dr. John. In the Aughties, Shreveport-born Malcolm Welbourne reinvented his own self as "Papa Mali," with a bit of a nod to the original Crescent City shape-shifter. Welbourne's first record, Thunder Chicken, included a version of Rebennack's "Walk On Gilded Splinters," but where the Night Tripper fused the relatively sophisticated funk of N.O. with LSD-tinged gris-gris, Welbourne brews his gumbo from gut-bucket blues, second-line rhythms, ganja, and dub-reggae.

This record's title cut twists Isaac Hayes' anthem of self-realization into a fuzz and echo fueled hallucination. "I Had A Dream" could be a Beatles rock workout from the White Album--if the Fab Four had dropped a lot more acid and had King Tubby producing instead of George Martin. The joyous lunacy continues with "Little Moses," which begins with a distorted voice speaking of, among other things, "Twelve galaxies gilted with quadralogical rocket stations." [sic] Mali's singing continues the dialogue with the spoken voice; on this track a National steel guitar is joined by a fuzz bass and drums for all the atmosphere you might need.

Welbourne's secret weapon is drummer Robb Kidd whose pirate-like name fits a take-no-prisoners percussion style that is grooving and creative throughout. Better-known guests abound but don't obtrude. Henry Butler turns in a textbook of Toussaint-style piano, buttressed by Kirk Joseph's Tuba on "Honeybee." Chief Monk Boudreaux, the Golden Eagle Mardi Gras Indians, JJ Grey, and Victoria Williams contribute some backing vocals, while Chuck Prophet adds some fine swamp guitar on one cut, but it is Mali's show all the way. For those who miss the kind of trip-adelic roots music that Mac gave us before he went all uptown-supper-club, Papa Mali supplies the psycho-delicious remedy by doing his own thing.
• Michael Ross

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