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That Same Pleasure and Pain: Witchdoctor’s ‘God Is Good’

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-Click here to listen to ‘God Is Good’ by Witchdoctor.

Witchdoctor’s latest album, ‘Diary of an American Witchdoctor’ is a compilation of Witchdoctor tracks from his self-released albums of the past few years, released through Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. Unlike the gimmicky personae-rap associated with that channel, Witchdoctor’s disc lacks obnoxious distance. I recall hearing ‘A.S.W.A.T. Healin’ Ritual’ and being sorta freaked-out by Witchdoctor’s image. He had always been sort of mysterious on those Dungeon Family records and with that “Mrs. Rogers are you theeerree? I got word that you wanted to see me” intro (which he half-parodies on ‘Suicide Bomber’) and his whole well, witch doctor persona, I thought of him as the Colonel Kurtz of rap or something. I mean, it worked, but I never felt the same kind of close-ness to this DF family member as I did listening to Outkast or Goodie Mob, who sounded very human. I never bothered getting Witchdoctor’s mail-order albums, so all of the songs on ‘Diary…’ are new to me.

On this compilation, Witchdoctor sounds more direct and sincere and did within seconds of putting in the disc; I didn’t need to adjust or “get” anything about the music, it just grabbed me right away. Maybe it was because it was so unexpected, but the intro track ‘God Is Good’, a lo-fi acoustic song that sounds recorded on a four-track and has more in common with early Animal Collective or Sebadoh than Southern rap, has got me obsessed. Maybe you recall ‘A.S.W.A.T’ closer ‘Lil Mama’s Gone’, an out-and-out acoustic soul number; ‘God Is Good’ sound similar. That track though, never worked for me and for awhile, I even drummed up some revisionist history as it being the first scary step that led to ‘The Love Below’ but what this newer singer-songwriter track reveals for me is, Witchdoctor could’ve pulled off a ‘Love Below’. There are plenty of interesting beats on this album and Witchdoctor can still only sort of rap (and can’t write a hook) and still manages to engage, but the few voice and guitar-driven tracks peppered throughout ‘Diary’ (‘DezOnly1′, ‘Prayer Call’,'Wonderful God’) are some of the best non-rap music I’ve heard in a long time.

Don’t listen to ‘God Is Good’ if you want a track representative of the album in terms of style, but it is an excellent introduction (or re-introduction) into the world of Witchdoctor and a reminder of just how smart the Dungeon Family collective once were (and could still be?). Their wise sense of contradiction and complement and a wonderfully complex understanding of the musical miscegenation Sasha Frere-Jones babbled about a few weeks ago (Indeed, ‘B.O.B’ was one of SFJ’s key examples) are all there in the one minute and forty-five second ‘God Is Good’.

The track begins with a high-quality recording of Witchdoctor beautifully humming what sounds like the beginning of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ and then, a tape splice interrupts the Doctor; the sound quality lowers and gets that really-great tape hiss that four-tracks recordings get, and there’s some acoustic strumming, a “Thank you”, then a subtler, tape splice and the songs begins with faster strumming and a sing-song “My God is your God and I said he is goo-oo-odd/My God is your God and he’s damn sure good to me/And he’s good to you…”. The Americana, followed by recording fidelity that drums-up everything from proto-emo Lou Barlow to Woody Guthrie to Skip James to Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’, and then, a solidified blues connection with a sincere invocation of God’s greatness, is all in the vein of the best Dungeon Family material. Towards the end of the track, Witchdoctor begins chanting “Stay tuned for more, Stay tuned for more…”, which might be a joke plea to keep listening to this wonderful album, but is one more Dungeon Family-like exercise in contradiction, throwing in that television viewing cliche amongst inclusive declarations of spirituality. As the songs fumbles to an end, the humming of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ is heard again, followed by a double-tracked voice asking “Did you enjoy that?”. Nationalism, God, the blues, mass media, entertainment, and performance are all mixed together. Racist America of the Star Spangled Banner and the actual home of the free, the blues that has been appropriated and destroyed for decades but kept alive at the same time, television and performance which gives us hours and hours of trash and also allows guys like Witchdoctor to get their message across, religion that causes wars and brings people together…what Ralph Ellison called “that same pain [and] that same pleasure”…it’s all a big appropriately fuzzy-sounding song that introduces Witchdoctor’s latest album.

Thanks to EarleyBird, for hooking me up with a free copy of ‘Diary…’. Earleybird appears on track two ‘Just Like You’. Also, a note to many of the rappers that’ve sent me their CDs, I’m working on something, I promise.-brandon

Written by Brandon

November 7th, 2007 at 5:01 am