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Smoke & Mirrors


The Dirty Dozen Brass Band: Medicated Magic

Ropeadope/Atlantic, 2002

Rating: 3.7



Posted: June 13, 2002

By Kevin Forest Moreau

Anniversaries are always a time of reflection and celebration, and with Medicated Magic, the Dirty Dozen strikes both poses in observance of its 25th anniversary as a band. That means an album full of New Orleans classics, attacked with relish and reverence by an outfit renowned for ushering in the "modern brass" genre. While it's certainly an appropriate gesture, it's also an obvious one. Which wouldn't matter so much if the band and its coterie of guest artists had taken the opportunity to radically reinvent such staples as "Big Chief" and "Junko Partner" the same way the Dozen transformed brass band music a quarter-century ago.

Alas, no such path is taken on Magic, and the results, while brimming with raucous Laissez Le Bon Temps Roulet spirit, are hardly revelatory. "Ain't Nothin' But a Party" snaps and crackles with infectious street-level sass, and "Everything I Do Gon' Be Funky" spirals into a self-fulfilling prophecy, thanks in large part to a gravely-voiced assist from Dr. John. Widespread Panic's John Bell turns in a credible Dr. John impression on "Walk On Gilded Splinters," which the band gooses with ragged glory. At these moments, Magic bristles with an appealingly loose proficiency.

But the questionable wisdom of tackling songs like the Meters' "Cissy Strut" or Aaron Neville's "Tell It Like It Is," the definitive versions of which are so indelibly ingrained into the musical consciousness, holds the proceedings back, and dilutes the disc's potency. Mixed gris-gris bag though it may be, Magic does boast some stellar star tunes, most notably from pedal steel wizard Robert Randolph (who kicks "Cissy Strut" and "Ruler of My Heart" into Mardi Gras overdrive), Olu Dara and jazz chanteuse Norah Jones. Acclaimed turntablist DJ Logic doesn't fare quite as well; his siren-scratching on "We Got Robbed" are mere parsley, unnecessary garnish that does little more than add a pretty distraction to the tight interplay of horns, keyboards and James McLean's fluid guitar.

All involved play with verve, passion and precision, and when it locks into a groove, Medicated Magic stands as a testament to the durability of the Crescent City's classic sound. But it's not as if the vast tableau of New Orleans music desperately needs another such affirmation. Impressive and likable as it often is, Magic can't help but beg the question of what the talents assembled could have accomplish had they sought to do more than celebrate the past.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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