This CD is so good I don’t know where to start. So I’ll start with the fact that it’s part of the great New Orleans arranger Wardell Quezergue’s last project, a voluminous series of recordings featuring Quezergue’s protégé Will Porter. Porter is a magnificent singer, a baritone in the Lou Rawls mode, with a great sense of swing, unique phrasing and that ineffable quality of soul that all the greats possess. Quezergue produced Porter’s excellent first album, Happy. It’s not surprising that Wardell wanted to work with Porter again.
I first heard these recordings in 2012, the year after Wardell passed. They were part of a series of what were essentially rough mixes that included numerous Dr. John songs, some of which had never been recorded. My understanding was that Wardell and Dr. John wanted to release an album that would emphasize Dr. John’s talents as a songwriter rather than as a performer. Porter was selected to be the voice that fronted the material.
Two of the Dr. John songs from those sessions are on this album—the previously unreleased title track, which Wardell thought was a potential hit, and a stupendous version of “When The Battle Is Over,” co-written by Dr. John and Jo Jones. It’s wonderful to hear Dr. John’s unmistakable voice in the background on the former, but the vocal interaction between Porter and the Womack Brothers, Curtis and Friendly Jr., on the latter must be heard to be believed. The Womacks join Porter on vocals for 7 of the album’s 11 tracks and are the secret weapon on the brilliant record. Other highlights of this exchange include Ike Turner’s “I’m Blue” and the album closers “Tear It Up” and “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.”
Guitarist Leo Nocentelli guests on “I Can Do Bad By Myself,” another standout track, and Porter shows his strength as a composer of ballads on “This California Sun” and “Why Do We Get Blue?” again backed by the Womacks. But wait, there’s more! Porter and the fantastic Bettye Lavette join forces for the unlikeliest of readings of a Bob Dylan song, “Make You Feel My Love.”
Wardell Quezergue’s loving touch is obvious throughout, but particularly on the string arrangements that grace Porter’s ballads. Misha Kachkachishvili’s engineering, mixing and remaster turned those rough mixes I heard into aural gold here. I can only hope that someday we get to hear the rest of the Dr. John material that was included in the sessions that produced this great album.