Blues & Ballads – A Folksinger’s Songbook: Volumes I & II
New West Records
Traditionally, the art of folk music is passed down from generation to generation sometimes in written form but usually orally. Throughout his life, Luther Dickinson has collected his thoughts in various drawings and notes that later reemerge as songs. As with any true art, these ideas are constantly evolving, and thus comes the title for this newly released double disc set of 21 tracks titled Blues & Ballads (A Folksinger’s Songbook), Vols. I &II. It is this ever-changing art that Dickinson presents. Many of the numbers collected here have been released previously in other incarnations, whether with his blues-rock outfit The North Mississippi All-Stars with his brother Cody or on solo projects and other groupings he has been involved with. Some of the recognizable pieces include fresh, clever, and smart new takes on “Hurry Up Sunshine,” “Bang Bang Lulu,” and “Shake (Yo Mama).”
Dickinson performs mostly acoustically on the numbers, but many tracks offer electric instrumentation alongside his playing on guitar, mandolin, and piano. There are numerous contributors to the album, including his combining The Cooperators with Amy LaVere on vocals and bass, and Sharde Thomas, the granddaughter of legendary Mississippi musician Otha Turner, on fife, drums, and vocals. Lillie Mae Rische provides fiddle and vocals, Charlie Hodges on keys, Paul Taylor on the tub bass, Jimmy Crosthwait on washboard and backing vocals from Sharisse and Shontelle Norman. His band mates from the South Memphis String Band AlvinYoungblood Hart and Jimbo Mathus also make appearances, as does JJ Grey and Jason Isbell on “Up Over Yonder.” Perhaps the most notable guest on the release is Mavis Staples who teams up with Dickinson on his tribute to the passing of his father on “Ain’t No Grave” which first appeared on the North Mississippi All Stars album Keys To The Kingdom. It is a beautiful and emotional rendition matching his bare slide guitar next to Staples’ voice.
Recorded in a handful of studios, including Memphis’ famed Sun and Royal Studios, the sound is extraordinary. Copies of his handwritten lyrics are included in the CD packaging, whereas printed copies of his notebooks are offered in the vinyl release.
Dickinson continues to explore the natural sounds and roots of his musical heritage raising the bar with his efforts. He is not beyond rediscovering himself time and time again. This is a collection of pieces of his career work that he keeps reinterpreting and bringing more and more into his ideal vision of his music proving that Luther Dickinson is a musician with a lot more to say. Even if it is something we’ve heard before, although in a completely different direction. Blues & Ballads (A Folksinger’s Songbook), Vols. I & II is a very awe-inspiring release that showcases the brilliance behind Dickinson.
Total Time: 1:14:25
Hurry Up Sunrise / Up Over Yonder / Bang Bang Lulu / Moonshine / Jackson / Mean Ol’ Wind Died Down / How I Wish My Train Would Come / Ain’t No Grave / Let It Roll / My Leavin’ / Horseshoe (Reprise) / Highwater (Soldier) / And It Hurts / Storm / Mojo, Mojo / Ol’ Cannonball / Devilment / Blow Out / Mayor Langford Birmingham Blues / Shake (Yo Mama) / Horseshoe