Papa Mali: Do Your Thing

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By Dennis Cook

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. 2000’s 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.

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