MAY-JUNE, 2006

Jungle Jim And The Voodoo Tiger (Memphis International)

If 2002's Free Beer Tomorrow, Jim Dickinson's "follow-up" to his 1971 solo debut Dixie Fried, sounded like a well-conceived showcase for his favorite mostly-obscure songs, this one sounds more like one man's quickly-tossed-off, romping, stomping homage to southern music.

Not that he hasn't, in the process, unearthed some long-lost gems. Collin Wade Monk's aching, slo-burn "Violin Bums" sounds like something Tom Waits wishes he'd written, while "White Silver Sands" (once the theme song of '60s southern comedian Brother Dave Gardner) is weird and witty cocktail-lounge jazz-bop.

But he seems especially happy bellowing his way through the likes of Terry Fell's war-horse "Truck Driving Man" or Lightning Slim's "Rooster Blues". And his bloozy reading of "Love Bone", a 1969 hit for Johnny Taylor, is delivered with an irresistible wink and smile that makes the original sound kinda chaste.

With a band anchored by his sons Cody and Luther of the North Mississippi All Stars, this veteran artist/producer has never sounded looser on record, which is saying a lot after the drunken carnival sound of Free Beer. He makes pure roots music that's not purist, music that breathes, with lots of open spaces; plays roadhouse piano that bridges black and white; and is arguably the last man alive who knows how to record a sax so it sounds like a sex toy.

The rockers are hell-bent and the slow ones are heaven-sent. He's serious and he's fun and he does it from the heart. All this and a lolling/lulling version of "Samba De Orfeo" from Black Orpheus, too. - JOHN MORTHLAND

Jungle Jim and the Voodoo Tiger
Memphis International DOT 0215

The "best of all worlds," if possible, would be an alternate universe where, leaving politics aside, Steve Buscemi is a major star, Tom Cruise an extra on Will & Grace, and the 1969 Johnny Cash Show with special guest Bob Dylan in perpetual TV rotation. But alternate universes exist only in sci-fi and the minds of soon-to-fail communards. Instead we have cult heroes who, by definition, are failures as they lack wide popularly. But cult favs in music are the staff of life for those who don't give a damn about American Idol.

Jim Dickinson holds a front-row in the pantheon of little-known heroes. He's never had a hit record as a performer, the discs he's produced haven't been big sellers at Wal-Mart, and listeners who've heard him on albums by Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, etc., didn't buy them because of his presence.

But the music he's released as Jim Dickinson, James Luther Dickinson and as Mud Boy & the Neutrons is the real stuff - raw-to-the-bone roots-core done in the fat Memphis tradition that encompasses Furry Lewis, Elvis, and Big Star (whom he produced).

Dickinson's latest, Jungle Jim and the Voodoo Tiger, is a roaring beast of a disc for those who prefer untamed to domesticated. Working with his sons Luther and Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Amy LaVere (who played Wanda Jackson in Walk the Line) and various Memphis sidemen, Dickinson rips through a string of tunes that pretty much tell the tale in their titles: "Red Neck, Blue Collar," "Truck Drivin' Man," "Violin Bums," "Out of the Blue," "Love Bone," "Rooster Blues," "Somewhere Down the Road," "Can't Beat the Kid (Part 2)," and "Hadacol Boogie." And like the ingredients in that old patent medicine, they are good for what ails you, with a dash of honey, vitamins, and a rot-gut alcohol.

Dickinson knows this music like contents of the barn he's turned into a recording studio in the Mississippi hill country. His well-worn voice and keyboards, along his sons' guitar and drums, make this disc near perfect for those who hate the watered-down pop that sells. Extra bonuses: a fun little closing romp through "Samba de Orfeo" from Black Orpheus and amusing liners by Dickinson fan Ry Cooder. - BILL WASSERZIEHER

James Luther Dickinson


NEW YORK TIMES: "Mutant white-boy funk."

SPIN Magazine: "William Faulkner beating the crap out of Dr. John."

VILLAGE VOICE: "One of the greatest storytellers and piano players in rock'n'roll history."

BILLBOARD: (Chris Morris)- "Bar-b-qued southern dementia- enough bloodshed, inebriation, and lust to fill half-a-dozen other long-players."

ROLLING STONE: (David Fricke)- "A rough, rowdy music as big as Dixie itself. A thumping backroad tour of loss, rage, and outlaw whoopee."

HONG KONG MORNING POST: "If the devil has a sense of humor, this could be Hell's soundtrack."

OXFORD AMERICAN JOURNAL: "The Memphis musical tradition channels itself through Dickinson. Is he black? White? or some new race altogether? He is a practitioner and apostle of a kind of American mongrel music that arieses out Memphis where the backwoods and the parlor, the negro and the redneck, the frat boy and the Bishop come together."

A great record!
Johnny Dowd

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