Papa Mali’s second album documents his pre-Katrina New Orleans summit with some of the city’s most celebrated and talented players: Kirk Joseph, founding member and groundbreaking sousaphonist for The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Henry Butler, torchbearer for such great New Orleans piano players as James Booker and Professor Longhair and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, of The Golden Eagles and Wild Magnolias Mardi Gras Indians.
More than a recording session, the atmosphere that developed feels almost like a seance, as friends gather in a circle and invoke the ghosts of their pasts. Look deeper, and you can almost see those spirits weaving through the air like curls of smoke, conjuring visions of snake handlers and tent revivals, spy boys and street parades, proceeding with a broke-leg swagger to a place that’s less about being funky and more about being Southern. Do your thing!
Papa Mali grew up in the sixties and early seventies in Shreveport. He spent his summers in New Orleans with his grandparents, soaking up the musical flavor and witnessing the heyday of The Meters, The Wild Tchopitoulas, James Booker, Professor Longhair and many of the city’s now-legendary acts. He himself has been playing in New Orleans for over 30 years.
“Malcolm “Papa Mali” Welbourne is the kind of local character that would be genuinely iconic anywhere else. Here in his adopted New Orleans, though, where we historically curate a stellar permanent collection of freaks, oddities and twisted brilliance, he simply fits right in. That’s not faint praise, either. The psychedelic swamp sounds on Do Your Thing are New Orleans inside and out, and even if the sound didn’t show it, his guest list would. No less of a supporting cast than the Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s sousaphone player Kirk Joseph, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, award-collecting pianist Henry Butler, the Golden Eagle Mardi Gras Indians, and the Reverend Goat Carson — who’s equally likely to be seen sweeping up a Frenchmen Street bar in the early morning as playing in one late at night — appear on the record, which is a magically crafted grimoire of voodoo space blues. Reminiscent of Night Tripper-era Dr. John, Coco Robicheaux or C.C. Adcock’s latest gritty ghost-rock effort, Do Your Thing runs the gamut from prayerful blues on tracks like the haunting, understated closer True Religion to psychedelic, almost Beatles-esqe fuzz guitar on I Had The Dream. All in all, a powerful, glowing globe of swamp gas. “
‘‘ as an example of pure modern pop-rock originality, Papa Mali should be an institution. And institutionalized.”
‘‘ a thing of aural beauty… a fascinating glimpse into Papa Mali’s visceral vision and spell-casting.”
‘‘ Any fan of New Orleans music needs to buy this CD as soon as humanly possible.”
Hittin’ The Note
‘‘ Dreadlocked magic man Papa Mali’s sophomore effort begins with a crazy, echo-basted beat that reaches us like slow movin’ sunlight, warming our bones and reminding us, quite rightly, to always do our thing. A thick haze – dangerous and satisfying as good ballin’ – hovers over this shifting, hallucinatory landscape. Papa ruts with our earholes, and children it feels real good.
Do Your Thing was almost seven years in the making. Thunder Chicken announced a wild-eyed swamp monkey who high-fived you with a crusty mojo hand. Eclectic, electric, and frequently exciting, his debut stirred expectations for the future. Well, sometimes the future is a long time coming. Good news is the fermentation process for Do Your Thing has produced moonshine with a 100-proof kick.
Papa Mali (aka Malcolm Welbourne) and boffo producer Dan Prothero (MOFRO, Tim Bluhm, Galactic) conjure an atmosphere equal to early ’70s Curtis Mayfield and Night Tripper-era Dr. John. There’s the unmistakable feeling you’ve wandered into someone else’s dreamtime – a place of sharp shifts in mood, where sex and nightmares entwine with the slapping feet of Mustang Sally and Hand Jive Willy. The ground beneath our feet rumbles, and we find ourselves disoriented, shuffling off towards a blood red horizon.
Besides the mesmerizing opener, there’s “Honeybee,” a sweet slice of mos’ scocious Mac Rebennack-erie, and “I Had The Dream,” a Hendrix homage so good it could slide onto Electric Ladyland. While there’s no missing his influences – toss in floorboard rattlin’ John Lee Hooker, Hound Dog Taylor, and Tony Joe White – Papa Mali has his own sumptuous thang happening. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes an original so original but you know it when you hear it. You pick up on it in the rambling intro to “Little Moses,” in the exuberant, headlong rush of “Early In The Morning,” and especially in the simmering heat of “Girls In Bossier City.” And, there’s the aching acoustic closer “Hallelujah I’m A Dreamer,” which equals the best wistful moments of Ry Cooder or John Hiatt. Something in his temperament, his delivery, and his undisguised freakiness distinguishes Malcolm from the other papas.
Aiding and abetting on Do Your Thing are Dirty Dozen co-founder Kirk Joseph on sousaphone, New Orleans keyboard master Henry Butler, and Mardi Gras maestro Big Chief Monk Boudreaux. But, the real MVP here is Mali’s longtime drummer Robb Kidd, who is percussion perfection on every cut, pounding down levees one minute and then whispering like a firefly the next. Also in the mix are Victoria Williams, JJ Grey, and Chuck Prophet, who lays down some seriously mean electric guitar on “True Religion.”
In the liner notes, Papa Mali says, “Some folks have called me a catalyst for ‘that-which-is-not-really-explained’. Perhaps. But this much I will admit: I welcome those who occupy the spiritworld – and they know it.” This perfectly explains the roughshod ghost dance feel of Do Your Thing, one of the first great albums of 2007, and quite possibly one for the ages.”
‘‘ This driving, echo-drenched polyrhythmic joy ride transforms the traditional Mardi Gras march into a contemporary slice of voodoo electronica.”
– Offbeat Magazine
‘‘ There’s a thick, hot, humid, mind-altering atmosphere to his music both live, and, miraculously, in the studio (where many a good vibe can die); and the crazed, gonzo, go for it attitude displayed on Thunder Chicken makes it still one of my favorite albums.
On Do Your Thing, Mali again worked with Fog City honcho, recording facilitator, and tone authenticator Dan Prothero; and in many ways it offers a sonic continuation of the first CD: often reverb drenched and echoplexed; overdriven and vibrant as a fever dream or lowdown, dark and ominous as moonless midnight in the South Louisiana swamp.
To me, this is a deep summer, windows open, still sweaty at midnight, heat lightning playing tricks with your mind kind of record, to be enjoyed and explored after indulging in this or that effective intoxicant of choice, or however you wish to free your mind. Papa Mali offers a worthy modern day expression of the sanctified psychedelic hoodoo of Dr. John’s early days, as captured on the Gris Gris album of the late 1960’s. This man learned serious stuff from the late John Campbell, a blues/voodooist so intense that it still spooks me to listen to his records.
All that said, I’ve decided to feature the exceptional exception to that mood, ‘Early In The Morning’, a full-tilt run and gun riff on a Mardi Gras Indian theme, featuring the incredible drum attack of the truly gifted, surely possessed Robb Kidd. This song seems to have been inspired by the Indian song, ‘Let’s Go Get Em’, written by Bo Dollis and Monk Boudreaux (who’s in on the vocals), but amped up to the extreme. It’s a wild ride and an impressive turn for all concerned.
As I’ve said, Papa Mali’s influences are manifold; and I could go on. But I think his modus operandi can be simply summed up. He makes music spontaneously overflowing with the spirit of the old (and, we hope, the new) New Orleans and the re-imagined Louisiana of his youth. Check this stuff out.”
Home of the Groove