Luther and Cody

That old adage about apples falling close to trees has never been more true than it is with the duo of Cody and Luther Dickinson, whose new North Mississippi Allstars record, Prayer for Peace, shows again what good use they have made of the solid foundation their father, the producer Jim Dickinson, left them.

In their solo projects and in the North Mississippi Allstars, they are dedicated traditionalists and modern proponents of the kind of music that was celebrated in the new T Bone Burnett, Robert Redford, and Jack White film and music project, American Epic.

While Cody Dickinson is a fine drummer and piano player, Luther Dickinson, a guitarist who has played with the Black Crowes, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and John Hiatt among many others, is a monster player on both electric and acoustic guitars. His slide-guitar playing is particularly evocative and tasty. He's also an enthusiastic, if not overly melodic singer. While the music the Dickinson brothers (and former Allman Brothers bassist Oteil Burbridge) are best at is an improvised, low-down, rhythmically forward version of Mississippi hill country electric blues, the brothers, now in their 40s, have a connection that is obviously reminiscent of other duos like the White Stripes and Black Keys but also of Cream.

The opening title track, written by Luther Dickinson, features vocals and fife by Sharde Thomas who is the granddaughter of legendary North Mississippi blues fife-and-drum player, the late Othar Turner. For a ride into the real backwoods of traditional American music that was still happening in the late 20th century, check out Turner's Everybody Hollerin' Goat (1998).

Here on an LP recorded in studios across the US while the band was on tour, they pay tribute to another Mississippi artist, the late R.L. Burnside—who is a later example of just the kind of artist that American Epic focused on—by covering three of his songs, "Miss Maybelle," "Bird without a Feather" and "Long Haired Doney."

And lest Memphis, TN, that metropolis just to the north of Mississippi that played such a large role in the music of not only Mississippi but the entire country be forgotten, the brothers cover the great near-pop tune, "Stealin'" by Will Shade, the leader of the Memphis Jug Band, which was the subject of one long section of American Epic .

As a last connection to Mississippi, the band covered a pair of tunes, "You Got To Move," and "61 Highway" by another great hill country player, the late Mississippi Fred McDowell. The vocal duet between Luther Dickinson and Danielle Nicole on a slide guitar and drums version of "You Got Move" is one of the album's highlights.

It's fairly amazing if not highly unlikely that an album recorded in eight different studios would sound this good but it actually does. While the tracks recorded in genuine studios like Arlyn Studios in Austin, TX and Brooklyn Studios in Brooklyn, NY do seem to have a bit more clarity and presence than the stuff recorded in rooms that I suspect are more on the order of home studios, nothing hear sounds terrible despite the band's often jammy, swirling aesthetic. And thankfully, while the music is faithful to the spirit of the hill country and the early American music profiled in American Epic, there is no attempt to replicate—as some have actually tried in recent years—those flawed and challenged pre-modern transfer sonics.

michaelhigh's picture

The show I saw with Luther sounded horrible (bad FOH guy and iffy LP), but his playing was without criticism. No fan of the blues am I, but I recognize talent beyond personal taste, and he certainly has that in spades.

I concur with the reviewer that an attempt to bring the gutbucket approach to performing/recording would have hindered (ruined?) this beyond repair for me. The actual tightness of this embedded track, aside from and in conjunction with the performance, was a beauty to behold.

Will this LP put down a pallet and rest in my collection, or share ham and beans at my table? Nope.

That won't stop it from being excellent!