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Dr. John And The Lower 911: An Unbroken 'Heart'

The organ lays down a slow and sanctified groove, as if a hymn is about to begin, but then a driving drummer speeds up the pace. The organ sings out and a percussive, bluesy piano elbows in. Dr. John is messing with our minds, sliding from church to boudoir as his charmingly grizzled voice describes how his lover has had a "Change of Heart."

With his 70th birthday coming up in November, the New Orleans singer and pianist functions as the outspoken eminence grise for his battered city. His lively new album Tribal trots out jazzy, jive-y riffs and political statements about America's problems. Yet Dr. John (a.k.a. Mr. Malcolm John Rebennack Jr.) sounds his most relaxed on old-school love songs like "Change of Heart," a self-written exemplar of classic rhythm and blues with a jaunty New Orleans twist. The storyline is old-school, too: The woman he adores has stepped out with another man. He doesn't know what to do, except go out and find someone new himself.

The song ends on a mournful note -- "She really hoit me so" are its last words -- but "Change of Heart" isn't a downer thanks to the power of Dr. John's spirit. Musically and lyrically, he's made it clear that his broken-hearted narrator is moving on. Maybe that's a political statement in and of itself.

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Marc Silver
Marc Silver, who edits NPR's global health blog, has been a reporter and editor for the Baltimore Jewish Times, U.S. News & World Report and National Geographic. He is the author of Breast Cancer Husband: How to Help Your Wife (and Yourself) During Diagnosis, Treatment and Beyond and co-author, with his daughter, Maya Silver, of My Parent Has Cancer and It Really Sucks: Real-Life Advice From Real-Life Teens. The NPR story he co-wrote with Rebecca Davis and Viola Kosome -- 'No Sex For Fish' — won a Sigma Delta Chi award for online reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists.