Babylon - 1969
Establishing himself as the high priest of psychedelic voodoo with his 1968 debut, Gris Gris, Dr. John tweaked his formula a bit, spaced things out even further and brewed up a far weirder, equally intoxicating follow up with Babylon. Here, the grooves are twitchy and loping, the instruments have more room to roam and the chorus of female voices serves as more of an instrument in and of itself rather than a counterpoint to the lead vocals. Oddly enough, Mac Rebennack's voice toes the line between a frothy Captain Beefheart and Van Morrison on a bad trip, while the music reaches Sun Ra levels of spacial intensity. Taken in album-length doses, Babylon is an incredible achievement that with such a varying palette of flavors and grooves laid out to soak up, rivals Gris Gris in depth and flat-out weirdness. Every track is a highlight, but the chorus of "Glowin'" is one of Dr. John's most beautifully emotive sections in his repertoire, while the electric-piano backbone of "Black Widow Spider" drives and whirls the album to a manic peak. Not easy to come by and sadly overshadowed by its predecessor and Dr. John's funkier, more accessible work with the Meters a few years later, Babylon is an enigma. If Gris Gris was a tidy pot of gumbo, Babylon was a cajun boil with all of its elements poured on the table to feast on and dissect. Delicious.