Dr. John, whose real name is Mac Rebennack, has sported an astonishing variety of public images, from the voodoo stick-rattling wild man of his 1968 debut (an image concocted to better market him to the psychedelia set) to the jive-spouting hipster of the '70s to his own cool self in the past decade. This album--among his least known, released originally on the tiny Clean Cuts label, and now on compact disc (with three additional tracks) from Rounder Records--was the one for which he dropped all masks and gave listeners an unadulterated look at the man behind them. Hence the title.
With this solo piano performance, he romps, he stomps, he lays back, he makes the keys cry and he makes them jump for joy. The only interruption in the instrumental workout is his typically driftwood-dry vocal treatment of Hoagy Carmichael's "The Nearness of You." Otherwise, he's either tipping his chapeau to such pianistic predecessors as Professor Longhair, Joe (the Honeydripper) Liggins and Pinetop Smith or strutting through his own compositions. "Mac's Boogie" is off-center stride piano as it could only originate in New Orleans (a place from which, personae aside, he's never really strayed).
Especially neat: "Memories of Professor Longhair," during which the good doctor unleashes a rhythmically mind-boggling assault on the keyboard. By the end, it seems his left and right hands are operating in distinct, yet somehow harmonious, musical universes.
Dr. John plays Saturday at the Rhythm Cafe in Santa Ana.