The final, posthumous album by Dr. John, Things Happen That Way, has been warmly hailed by media both in the US and beyond. Released by Rounder digitally and on CD on Friday (23) with the vinyl edition to follow on October 14, it has been described as “a richly resonant farewell” by Uncut and “a fitting, heartfelt sign-off from an American treasure” by AllMusic.
Malcolm “Mac” Rebennack, Jr. was making the album, and thereby fulfilling a longtime ambition to make a country and western record, when he died of a heart attack in 2019. The album was seen to completion by his eldest daughter, and executrix of his estate, Karla Pratt.
“Though it’s very sad that my father isn’t here to see this project that meant so much to him finally be out in the world, I take great comfort in knowing that we fulfilled his long-held wishes,” says Pratt. “During his lifetime he frequently stated his desire to record this album with his dear, lifelong friend Willie Nelson and Willie’s son Lukas Nelson as treasured guest artists – he felt having two generations would be very special, spanning past and future.
“Though he didn’t get to work with Lukas during his lifetime, I’m very happy to know we were able to make that happen,” she continues. “Another lifelong friend, Aaron Neville, lends the instantly recognizable, beautiful voice he always admired. We’re so grateful to the many musicians who contributed to this album, and I’m confident that Dad would be very proud of the final result.”
Hank Shteamer, reviewing the record in the New York Times, writes: “The New Orleans piano man who embodied the musical mélange of his hometown had the kind of drawly, lived-in voice that only improved with age. So Things Happen That Way – Dr. John’s final album, recorded the year he died, 2019 – captures him in peak form.”
In Rolling Stone, Jonathan Bernstein adds: “With unusually vulnerable performances of classics like ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ and ‘Funny How Time Slips Away,’ Things Happen That Way is the realization of the singer’s long-held dream of crafting a country-inspired album.”
Sharon O’Connell in Uncut calls the album “a richly resonant farewell from a maverick veteran,” while Keith Spera, in the Times-Picayune says: “As far as farewells go, it is at times bittersweet, at times triumphant, with enough nuance to convey that it came in the twilight of Rebennack’s remarkable life and career.”
AllMusic’s Thom Jurek notes: “Things Happen That Way is solid, fun, and a bit sad, but a fitting, heartfelt sign-off from an American treasure. It’s quite beautiful.” The album also attracts a four-star review from Mojo and glowing notices from No Depression, The Independent, and many others.
Buy or stream Things Happen That Way.