July 2, 2010
I hadn't heard this album until last week, but it was oddly familiar to me. If you buy it,
and I highly recommend that you do, you may have the same reaction. It's not just that I
had heard most of the songs countless times, but also the way that they were performed:
with love for the music, passion, and (here's where it differs from other similar releases)
absolutely no other motive whatsoever. The only thing in the (semi) modern era I can think
of that comes close is the "Million Dollar Quartet" session, but this is much more intense
Luther Dickinson is one of the best musicians working today. A full time member of the North
Mississippi Allstars, the Black Crowes, and the South Memphis String Band (who I will review
here shortly), Dickinson recorded this extremely personal, anguished album of gospel tunes
three days after the death of his father, the legendary musician and producer Jim Dickinson.
The results are both grievous and uplifting, creating the best pure gospel album in years.
To say that this album belongs in the tradition of blues gospel such as the Rev. Gary Davis
and Blind Lemon Jefferson, although true stylistically, would be far too simple and would be
selling this album far too short.
Most of the record consists of songs you have all heard before ("Angel Band", "Leaning on the
Everlasting Arms", "Lonesome Valley","Softly and Tenderly", etc), so there is really no need
to go into a detailed review of every one of them. I will talk about a few lesser known tracks
later, but the fact that these songs have all been recorded thousands of times shouldn't
discourage you from seeking these versions out because you have rarely, if ever, heard them
performed with this much raw emotion. The musicianship on the record is stripped-down, yet
flawless, but that is almost beside the point. The main reason you will keep listening to this
one over and over, as I did, is the passion in the vocals and the lyrics. Dickinson isn't the
world's best vocalist, but that hardly matters. Neither is Dylan. And he even messes up the
lyrics a time or two throughout the album (all the songs here were first takes). Again that
hardly matters. What matters is the pure emotion and feeling. You've felt it yourself if you've
ever lost somebody you loved, yet had mixed feelings on the matter; you are sad to see them go,
but glad they are through suffering and hope to see them again someday. This album captures all
of that emotion and puts it on record.
The album contains two originals. The first, "Let it Roll" is a newly penned tune Dickinson
wrote as the sessions started. The song sounds like a traditional African-American spiritual,
as do many of the tracks. "Hear the death bells toll", he tells us over his affecting and emotional
dobro playing. The second is "Up Over Yonder", a much more folk-influenced track written upon the
death of Dickinson's grandmother and about how "we'll all meet again over on the other side".
But the most affecting performance (it almost feels wrong to call it, or any of the tracks for that
matter, a "performance" when the emotion is this real) on the album is "His Eye is On the Sparrow",
apparently a favorite of his father. Dickinson sounds on the verge of tears by the song's chorus
where he says that "I sing because I'm happy/I sing because I'm free".
This album brought me to tears the first time I heard it. Remembering family members who have passed
on was surely part of it, but repeated listens have shown that it mostly had to do with the honest
and naked emotion found on the record. This is the kind of gospel music that has been lost to this
generation, who prefer things to be smoothed out and polished. I don't claim to be religious in any
traditional sense (my own experiences and thoughts on the matter could make up another blog post by
themselves) , but I have to wonder how music that has been stripped of all feeling can save one's soul.
At a time when the country is going through a collective hard time and all we hear on the radio is
Auto-Tuned, computerized, inhuman noise, this, the chronicle of one man's hard time and the best album
of the year, is the answer.
A few years back, Jim Dickinson blacked out after playing in nearly 100-degree heat at the Bonnaroo Festival. He had been onstage with the North Mississippi Allstars - the band his sons Luther and Cody have with Chris Chew - and their friends, R.L. Burnside (now deceased) and Duwayne and Garry Burnside, various members of Othar Turner's Rising Star Fife & Drum Band, Chris Robinson from the Black Crowes, and JoJo Hermann of Widespread Panic. After Jim came to, he laughed and said he must be losing his showmanship; otherwise, he would have blacked out while onstage.
That was Jim Dickinson, master musician, showman, record producer, friend, and father. Every man or woman's passing affects someone, but Dickinson's death on Aug. 15, 2009, left a hole in the universe that won't close soon. Luther Dickinson, his eldest, made an attempt to channel shared grief by gathering family friends and taking them into his dad's recording studio to record this album of country spirituals just three days after Jim's death.
The assembly of musician's is known as the Sons of Mudboy, after a name the elder Dickinson used when he had bookings in his beloved Memphis. (By all means, seek out Mudboy & the Neutrons' They Walk Among Us on Koch Records). Playing with Luther on these 12 tracks are Jimmy Crosthwait and Steve Selvidge from the Neutrons, Sid's son Steve Selvidge (Big Ass Truck), Jimbo Mathus (Squirrel Nut Zippers, Buddy Guy), vocalist Shannon McNally, and drummer Paul Taylor. The songs are straight out of a country hymnal, if slide guitar accompaniment is part of the service.
Luther opens the 40-minute set with a solo version of "Let It Roll," followed by the full band and Sid's vocal on "Angel Band," a song written by Jefferson Hascall before the Civil War. Mathus takes over with an appropriately ramshackle version of "Where the Soul of Man Never Dies," followed by Luther on "Leaning On the Everlasting Arms." He and the others work their way through "You've Got To Walk That Lonesome Highway," "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning," "Glory, Glory," and more.
Considering the circumstances under which this album came to be, it could be a sorrowful listen. But Luther learned long ago from his father that music should give joy to the spirit, and there is much of that on Onward & Upward. The liners give Jim Dickinson a producer credit "in absentia," and it's a deserved honor. As his chosen epitaph declares, "I'm just dead; I'm not gone."
The Little Lighthouse
Flashlite #71 - February 4th, 2010
Today's highlight is definitely the new very special tribute to Jim Dickinson, created by his sons, friends and sons of his friends entitled Luther Dickinson & The Sons of Mudboy. Listeners of The Little Lighthouse are very well familiar with Jim Dickinson's ad-hoc supergroup called Mudboy and the Neutrons - one of the best bands that ever came out of Memphis, well known for their chaotic covers of standards and traditionals. Now, using the same idea but with a layer of sorrow surrounding the passing of Jim, Luther Dickinson and the Sons of Mudboy put out an excellent album called Onward and Upward. This record is a magnificent farewell to the imposing figure that Jim Dickinson used to be on the Memphis rock'n'roll scene.
Fricke's Picks: A Blues Wake
December 7, 2009
In August, three days after the death of producer Jim Dickinson at age
67, his son Luther, guitarist in the Black Crowes and the North
Mississippi Allstars, organized the ideal wake: Onward and Upward
(Memphis International), an acoustic session with Jim's friends and
cohorts, including Sid Selvidge and Jimmy Crosthwait, singing and
picking blues and gospel chestnuts as Luther Dickinson and the Sons of
Mudboy (a reference to Jim's notorious band Mudboy and the Neutrons).
Jim would have loved the rough edges, determined joy and especially
Luther's solo original, "Let It Roll," written that day and performed
like it came straight from a Son House Paramount-label 78.
David Fricke, Rolling Stone
A few days after noted producer/pianist/solo artist Jim Dickinson
passed away earlier this year, his eldest son, Luther, invited some of his
dad's friends and former bandmates down to the studio on his pop's rural
ranch for a combination jam session and wake. Over a few hours, they cut
the songs that comprise this disc: a combination of church songs,
originals and Mississippi Fred McDowell chestnuts. Featuring such guests
as Shannon McNally and the great Jimbo Mathus, the disc sounds as the
later producer would have wanted it to - like a hillbilly funeral. The
music has the informal, modest feel of an old- fashioned song swap, an
evening at a friends house. But instead of being created out of the
spirit of celebration, the music comes from hearts that are heavy. It's a
ragged group of songs that sounds a few generations old, and that's
probably what papa Dickinson, a champion and ambassador of Memphis/North
Mississippi music until the day he died, would probably have appreciated
the most. Capturing the tracks in no more than three takes-most in one-
Luther uses the album to make a public good-bye to his father, most
touchingly on the sparse "Where the Soul of a Man Never Dies."
All Music Guide
Three days after the death of legendary musician and producer Jim Dickinson, his son, Luther Dickinson, gathered friends at the family Zebra Ranch studio in Independence, MS, and recorded Onward and Upward, an album of gospel songs, hymns, and blues spirituals, tracking directly to half-inch tape with no overdubs or embellishments, and the result was a no-frills and intimate testament of grief and renewal. Luther, long a member of the North Mississippi Allstars and also currently a member of the Black Crowes, dubbed the ad hoc group the Sons of Mudboy, a reference to his father's influential band Mudboy and the Neutrons. On hand were two original members of the Neutrons, Sid Selvidge (guitar, vocals) and Jimmy Crosthwait (washboard, vocals), along with Jimbo Mathus (guitar, mandolin, banjo, vocals), Steve Selvidge (guitar, Dobro, vocals), Paul Taylor (washtub bass), and vocalist Shannon McNally. The album itself is essentially a musical wake, a way to both honor and say goodbye to Jim Dickinson in the one way he would most certainly want, and it is full of muted gems like the gently sad opener, "Let It Roll" (which Luther wrote that day), a haunting version of "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning," and "Back Back Train," among others. Onward and Upward emerges as a moving tribute, an emotional goodbye, and an honest, loving photograph of a moment in time, a moment when music reaches past entertainment to become the very heart of the matter.
Planet Weekly (Northport, AL)
October 29, 2009
Luther Dickinson & The Sons of Mudboy's Onward And Upward (Memphis International Records) came about just 3 days after the death of his father, Memphis music legend Jim Dickinson. Luther Dickinson opened the doors to the family's Zebra Ranch studio in Independence, Mississippi. Onward And Upward, an album of gospel songs and hymns came about over the course of a few hours. Luther (North Mississippi All-Stars and The Black Crowes) with some of the best Memphis musicians produced the songs Jim loved best. This album is from the heart paying honor to the man, who's last words were, "I will not be gone as long as the music lingers. I have gladly given my life to Memphis music and it has given me back a hundredfold."
Terrell's Tune-Up, The New Mexican (Sante Fe)
January 14, 2010
Just dead, not gone
One of the undersung giants of American music died last summer. I
speak of Jim Dickinson - songwriter, piano player, record producer,
music preservationist, singer (in his own gruff manner), Memphis
royalty, and spiritual force.
Dickinson's footprint is all over the blues and rock 'n' roll. He
played piano on the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses," Aretha Franklin's
"Spirit in the Dark," and Bob Dylan's album Time Out of Mind. He
produced albums by The Replacements, Mudhoney, The Flamin' Groovies,
and Big Star. He was a sideman for Ry Cooder for years. He's
responsible for some wonderful field recordings of Sleepy John Estes,
Furry Lewis, and Otha Turner. Although a Southerner through and through,
he captured the spirit of the Southwest in his soulful, Mexican-flavored
"Across the Borderline," (co-written with Cooder and John Hiatt), the best
version of which was sung by Freddy Fender in Cooder's soundtrack for the
1982 movie The Border.
The list of artists he produced and/or recorded with seems to go on
forever: Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Jerry Jeff Walker, Esther Phillips,
Joe "King" Carrasco, T-Model Ford, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion,
Flat Duo Jets, Toots & The Maytals, Jason & The Scorchers, the Tarbox
Ramblers, and Petula Clark.
Yes, Petula Clark!
Dickinson also released several good-time, blues-soaked, country-fried
albums of his own in recent years, including Free Beer Tomorrow and Jungle
Jim and The Voodoo Tiger. I recently stumbled across a live Dickinson
collaboration with Chuck Prophet, A Thousand Footprints in the Sand (a
line from "Across the Borderline") from the '90s.
Dickinson's spirit is all over a couple of new CDs involving his son
Luther Dickinson, who is best known for his work in the North
Mississippi Allstars. There's Onward and Upward, credited to Luther
Dickinson and The Sons of Mudboy, released late last year. And Home
Sweet Home by the South Memphis String Band is released on Tuesday,
Onward and Upward was recorded last August, three days after Jim
Dickinson's death, at the old master's Zebra Ranch Studio in
Independence, Mississippi. Musicians include Jimbo Mathus (best known as
the frontman of the Squirrel Nut Zippers), singer Shannon McNally, and two
members of Dickinson's old band, Mudboy and the Neutrons - guitarist Sid
Selvidge and Jimmy Crosthwait, who plays washboard and sings. Also on
board were Steve Selvidge on dobro and guitar and Paul Taylor on washtub
Dickinson is listed as one of the producers "in absentia." According
to the other producer, David Less, in the liner notes, "To say [the
recording sessions] were cathartic for all those participating would
be to undervalue the music. Everyone understood that Jim was there and
despite his passing, the music can still survive. To quote his epitaph,
'I'm just dead, I'm not gone.'"
Cathartic or not, this album does have a funereal feel. For the most
part, it's somber and mournful - not to mention heartfelt. I wouldn't be
the first to compare it to a musical wake for Dickinson. Close your eye
you can easily imagine yourself sitting in his living room while his son
and friends pay tribute in the best way they know how.
The album is mostly a collection of classic gospel tunes and
spirituals: "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning," "Softly and
Tenderly," "You've Got to Walk That Lonesome Highway," "His Eye Is on the
Sparrow," and from the bluegrass world, "Angel Band." It's acoustic,
low-key, and unflashy. Most of the tracks were first takes with no
overdubbing or other studio trickery.
Among the standouts are the upbeat "Where the Soul of Man Never Dies," a
song I think I first heard done by Delaney & Bonnie; "Let it Roll," a
dobro-driven dirge written by Dickinson the younger the day he started
recording the album; and "Back Back Train," a Mississippi Fred McDowell
song, which features some snazzy washboard and washtub bass interplay.
You know that Jim Dickinson is smiling somewhere.
Joe Nick Patoski - Notes and Musings
November 8, 2009
When James Luther Dickinson departed this world in August, there was no funeral. Instead, three days after he died, his older son Luther gathered with members of Mudboy & the Neutrons, Jim's favorite band of them all, along with Steve Selvidge, Sid's son, and Shannon McNally, at Zebra Ranch in northern Mississippi, the Dickinsons' home ground, and made an album that Memphis International Records has now issued.
Jim produced the project in absentia, and wrote the liner notes, which say all that needs to be said about Jim, his life, his music, and his deep sense of place.
Listening brought a smile to my face and a few tears. Most of all, it made me appreciate the fact Jim was my friend. I miss him badly, but Onward and Upward let me know he's still around, still in the air.
Lean in close to the speaker and you can hear the fife of Otha Turner, the cacophony of the Memphis Jug Head, and the shouts of joy and cries of sorrow of the men, women, and children who worked the Delta dirt for centuries.
As good as the music is, Jim's liner notes are even better:
"I refuse to celebrate death. My life has been a miracle of more than I ever expected or deserved. I have gone farther and done more than I had any right to expect. I leave behind a beautiful family and many beloved friends. Take reassurance in the glory of the moment and the forever promise of tomorrow. Surely there is light beyond the darkness as there is dawn after the night. I will not be gone as long as the music lingers. I have gladly given my life to Memphis Music and it has given me back a hundredfold. It has been my fortune to know truly great men and hear the music of the sphere. May we all meet again at the end of the trail.
"May God bless and keep you.
World Boogie is coming.
James Luther Dickinson"
Completing the circle, Luther's significant other, Necha, gave birth to a sweet baby girl named Lucia. Mary Lindsay Dickinson wrote to tell me the news:
"It seems like Necha's been pregnant forever, yet I remember like yesterday when she and Luther told us the good news, over dinner in Oxford. I can't help feeling sorry Jim can't be with us, but I have faith he's smiling down on us from Heaven and feeling proud."
And doing so in perfect rhythm and melody.
MATC Times (Milwaukee, WI)
November 19, 2009
Luther Dickinson is the brilliant guitarist of the North Mississippi All-Stars and part-time member of The Black Crowes. His father Jim Dickinson, famed Memphis session musician and producer, died this past August.
Three days after his passing, Luther got together with other musicians to honor the passing of his father. The result is Jim Dickinson and the Sons of Mudboy Onward and Upward (Merless), 12 tracks that replicate almost Depression-era gospel songs and hymns.
The musicianship is stark. Sometimes, simply a washboard or washtub bass is the lone musical instrumentation. Obviously, with such a spontaneous attitude most tracks were achieved in two or three takes which contributes to the album's low key attitude.
Standouts include "His Eye Is on the Sparrow," "In the Garden," "Angel Band" and "Back Back Train." For the participants this album could be nothing more than a way to deal with the death of a loved one and mentor. For the listener it's an enjoyable reminder of a musical time that has past but never should be forgotten.
December 14, 2010
So far I've been fairly lucky when it comes to the arrival of the Grim
Reaper. While I have lost a number of friends and relatives and feel
sorrow for each one, I have yet to mourn an immediate family member. And
when that eventuality does occur I don't think I'd be inspired to create
anything all too quickly. Then there's Luther Dickinson (Black Crowes,
North Missisippi All Stars) whose iconic father, Jim was a legendary
producer (Big Star, Ry Cooder, Mudhoney), valued session man (Rolling
Stones, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan) and solo artist, passed away on August
15th following heart surgery. Several days after the elder was laid to
rest, Luther entered the family's Zebra Ranch studio with an ad hoc group
of former musicians in Dickinson's Mudboy and the Neutrons band and other
friends, including Jimbo Mathus and Shannon McNally.
Finding an outlet to take one's mind off of grieving is certainly
understandable, but to tackle such a task makes me understand why I write
about music rather than make it. The lightning speed session used just two
microphones plugged directly into the tape recorder with most songs done
in one take. Understandably, the dozen tracks here are raw in
presentation, yet are far from clumsily made. The material can be broken
down into three categories - originals that Luther wrote following the
deaths of his father and grandmother ("Up Over Yonder"), blues covers from
Mississippi Fred McDowell ("Back Back Train") and Otha Turner ("Glory
Glory"), and gospel tunes that were passed down from one generation to the
next ("Leaning on the Everlasting Arms," "His Eye Is on the Sparrow" and
"Where the Soul of a Man Never Dies"). The inclusion of the last song is
especially significant since the liner notes uses Jim's words as his own
eulogy. It includes the line "I will not be gone as long as the music
Luther's acoustic blues take on "Let It Roll" revels in anguish and
attempts to be appeased by heavenly salvation, "Back Back Train" brings
him more relaxed and able to expand the song's framework. His
contributions are countered by the homespun spirituals of "Angel Band,"
"Where the Soul of a Man Never Dies" and "In the Garden," which sound as
if they traveled from the lush bluegrass mountains so they could comfort
the tribute subject at his grave. In all, Onward and Upward elicits the
catharsis that the musicians were seeking. And with its heartfelt
sincerity and simplicity, it imparts a soothing presence to those
-John Patrick Gatta
Son produces CD to make dad proud -Journal Star (Lincoln, NE)
December 24, 2009
Luther Dickinson had already scheduled time in his father's Zebra
Ranch Studio when his dad, legendary Memphis producer/pianist/music
philosopher Jim Dickinson passed away in August.
Luther kept the recording date, bringing along a half-dozen of Jim's
friends and musical collaborators to the north Mississippi studio for an
impromptu recording session. Cutting songs directly to half-inch,
two-track tape, Luther and the Sons of Mudboy (a reference to Jim's most
infamous band, Mudboy Slim and the Neutrons) created a heartfelt acoustic
gospel tribute to Jim. "Onward and Upward," the album drawn from that
session, opens with Luther solo doing an original hill country blues "Let
It Roll" that sounds as if it came right out of the 1930s. Spare
instrumentals - a guitar here, a bass there - provide the underpinning for
solo and group versions of songs like "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,"
"His Eye is on the Sparrow," "Softly and Tenderly" and the uplifting
closer "Glory, Glory." The result is a memorial that Jim would have loved:
raw and bluesy, reverent and of the moment, capturing in music a sense of
loss and remembrance. The disc takes its name from the title of a poem
written about Jim Dickinson by Sam Phillips, the legendary Sun Records
owner/producer. Production credits go to "Jim Dickinson (In Absentia),"
-L. Kent Wolgamott
Lakeland (FL) Ledger
December 31, 2009
When Jim Dickinson died in August at 67, the Memphis roots and rock
shaman left behind an expansive musical legacy that includes his son
Luther, of the North Mississippi Allstars and the Black Crowes.
'Onward and Upward' is Luther's tribute to his old man.
It's all acoustic, intimate and low-key, but ultimately uplifting in
its own ragged-but-right way.
Best of Memphis Music: Dickinson's influence loomed large in 2009
The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)
December 31, 2009
3. Whether he was guesting on others' records, working and influencing
artists like the Vest brothers (see No. 10) or his son Cody Dickinson (No.
8), or issuing his own disc, the jazzy Dinosaurs Run in Circles, the late
musician/producer/mentor/raconteur Jim Dickinson completely dominated the
year in Memphis music, almost as if he expected his death in August at the
age of 67 and was determined to squeeze in as much music as possible. A
star-studded September tribute concert at the Levitt Shell was perhaps the
live event of the year, but the most touching send-off came in November
when son Luther and a coterie of close musical compatriots dubbed the Sons
of Mudboy released Onward and Upward, an album of gospel standards cut just
days after Dickinson's death that is as fitting a farewell as anyone could
January 12, 2010
Instrumentist for Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones and Flamin Groovies. Producer of Green On Red, Replacements<, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Willy DeVille, Mudhoney and Tav Falco.
Leader of Mudboy & The Neutrons, a grungy swill of swamp-blues, country and rock and roll, little documented on record but surely listened for a long time by a lot of bands of the south of the United States.
This is only a little part of the Jim Dickinson's resume. An Arkansas's son (he was born in Little Rock in 1941) who was always identified with the music of that Memphis where he moved to when he was young and whose tradition crammed of country, gospel and r'n'r, he has viscerally loved and promoted without pausing for a whole life.
Dickinson passed away on the 15th of August 2009, in a bed of the Methodist Hospital of his beloved city; not even the third bypass has been enough to hold him among us. But as he was used to say, "I refuse to celebrate death. My life has been a miracle, well beyond anything I could've expected or deserved".
Jim leaves two sons, Luther and Cody, better known as North Mississippi Allstars.
It is true that each one of us faces certain events in the way that he reputes the best and while Cody has decided for a comprehensible and respectable silence, Luther has put together some old friends, some friends from the local scene and a new face to orchestrate not just a homage in music but a real funeral prayer, drunk of blues, country and melancholy.
Luther Dickinson & The Sons Of Mudboy sound starkly, staggeringly, hurtfully. Aside from the personal catharsis evoked in the terse liner-notes, the tracks on Onward And Upward give off a feeling of spiritual frailty, configuring all the man's horror and fear in front of the absence (or intrusiveness) of the Creator.
Together with the self-written Let it roll, a sad lament of slide composed by Dickinson for the passing of his father, there is a string of gospels and spirituals faced with dryness and absence of embellishments. A string that follows the path of a soily, grayish and not gothic folk-blues, furious and threatening as, to say, in 16 Horsepower, but infinitely gloomy and resigned as the arm of an alcoholic falling exhausted from his chest, humble as someone who lives the poverty as an inescapable plague and laconic as the sight of who watches the existence without ever glimpsing even the mirage of a second chance.
Onward And Upward is not a record for everybody. Not everyone (and not at anytime) has the soul in the right mood to face what it sounds like a hillbilly transcription, blackened by the pitch, of the 1970s records of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band or the acoustic counterpart, sibilant and skinned of "O Come Look At The Burnin" (2005) of Kevin Gordon or a record of Fat Possum where electricity is trade on a staggering unplugged structure in which every note resonates as a hiccup, a tear, a moan.
The desolate gospel of Leaning On The Everlasting Arms and Softly & Tenderly comes straight from the church services that Luther assisted during the Sundays of twenty-five years ago at the Baptist Church of Second Avenue; Back Back Train and Keep Your Lamp Trimmed come from a forgotten Mississippi Fred McDowell's vinyl ("Amazing Grace: Mississippi Delta Spirituals By The Hunter's Chapel Singers Of Chest of drawers, Miss." (1966)); the country-gospel Glory Glory comes from the performances of Otha Turner, ancient expert of the military flute grown up in the Madison County and, finally, His Eye Is On The Sparrow and You've Got To Walk That Lonesome Highway come from the voice of the common people who have been singing these traditionals for one century to cement friendships or face daily difficulties.
The banjo and the mandolin of Jimbo Mathus of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, the dobro of Steve Selvidge, the tuba of Paul Taylor, the voice of Shannon McNally, the six strings of Sid Selvidge and the washboard of Jimmy Crosthwait (the last two already original members of Mud Boy & The Neutrons) complete the package. Two unidirectional microphones connected to a two-tracks recorder; no post-production.
It's rare, nowadays, to come up with a record with so much history and so much music on its shoulders, both used exclusively to relieve a wild weeping. Listen to Onward And Upward and you won't be able to do anything else but nodding to the words chosen by Jim Dickinson for his epitaph: "I'm not dead. I'm just gone".
January 11, 2010
When Jim Dickinson passed away this past summer, the man of many talents left behind a musical legacy that will never be forgotten. He was a session man for Atlantic Records, playing on Aretha Franklin's Spirit in the Dark and supplying piano for the Stones on "Wild Horses." He was an acclaimed producer for a range of acts including Big Star, The Replacements, and Mudhoney. He was also a front man in his own band, Mudboy and the Neutrons. Most importantly though, he was a father, who passed his skills down to his two boys Luther and Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars.
Luther, who has been staying busy as the latest lead guitarist of the Black Crowes, decided to honor his late father, just three days after his death, by opening the doors to the family Zebra Ranch Studio and inviting some friends over to pay their respects with a sorrowful and soulful sing-a-long mourning session. The result, Onward and Upward, is a spontaneous collection of traditional gospel and blues numbers from the Dickinson's roots in the Southern hill country.
With help from former Neutrons Jimmy Costhwait and Sid Selvidge, as well as Jimbo Mathus of the Squirrel Nut Zippers and songstress Shannon McNally, Luther and company deliver songs in the down home style of a post-funeral gathering. Guitars are passed around as each old friend takes a turn on favorites, from the Southern Baptist hymn "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" to Fred McDowell's "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning" to the Otha Turner live staple "Glory Glory." The album's most heartfelt tune is an original Luther plays by himself. "Let It Roll" is a chilling field holler that laments the inevitable cycle of life behind some sparse twangy finger-picking.
Almost all of the album's songs were recorded in one take, captured straight from two microphones into an old school two-track tape recorder. With no post-mixing, Onward has a rustic hiss that embodies the first emotional response, warts-and-all intention of these sessions. This was never meant to be a perfect album. It is instead a cathartic way to honor and appreciate the roots of a musician who lives on in song and spirit
Sonic Boomers - Bentley's Bandstand
January 1, 2010
New Year's is a good day to think about death, because it is also a prime time of new beginnings. It is a chance to look at the world with fresh eyes and renewed hope, and see it as a continual changing from one form to another. Memphis musician and producer Jim Dickinson passed on last summer, but not before creating a whirlwind of sound and feeling for over half a century, and affecting those who truly love music in ways they may never even know. And that's because Dickinson, the son of an Arkansas match salesman, knew from a very young age that there were miracles to be pulled out of the air, and that songs were the vessels that allow mere humans to convey those moments of magic for others to discover. His oldest son Luther invited a roomful of the players who had grooved mightily with his father, and they went into the family studio, Zebra Ranch at Independence, Mississippi and turned on the two-track 1/2-inch tape recorder. What flowed out of the hands and hearts of these humans is a moving celebration as well as an outpouring of grief, honoring what Jim Dickinson had shared with each of them over the course of his life. In many ways, it's a harkening back to a time of field recordings throughout the South, a style all present have been influenced by as they learned their early lessons. But like all true artists, none of these people are locked into the past. That is not what music is about for them, but rather it's a chance to mix all the elements up in a big bowl and see what occurs. What happens here is a peek into the land where so much of this sound began, inspired by the spirituals in Baptist churches sometimes sung by slaves, and other times written in the moment. Jim Dickinson was a founding member of the infamous Bluff City band Mudboy and the Neutrons, supplying keyboards and other less tangible combustibles to an outfit not known for extensive live appearances but rather one who gave followers reason to believe in the continued goodness of rock & roll. Luther, also now a North Mississippi
All-Star as well as Black Crowe, is joined by Neutrons Sid Selvidge and Jimmy Crosthwait along with Jimbo Mathus of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, Paul Taylor and Steve Selvidge as well as vocalist Shanon McNally to raise the Zebra Ranch roof and make a joyful noise for their father, friend and mentor. And what a noise it is. As Sun Records' founder Sam Phillips once said of the dearly departed, "It is Jim D's soul of sound bouncing off the sky." Listening to "Learning on the Everlasting Arms," Softly and Tenderly," "Where the Soul of a Man Never Dies," "Glory Glory" and all these other instances of immortality is to be in the presence of Jim Dickinson, who wanted it said of him, "I'm just dead, I'm not gone." Shine on.
All About Jazz
January 3, 2010
Luther Dickinson, a founding member of The North Mississippi Allstars and a guitarist recently recruited into The Black Crowes, is only one member of The Sons of Mudboy, an impromptu gathering of musicians offering a posthumous tribute to Dickinson's father, Jim. The group's name constitutes a further homage to the elder Dickinson, who fronted a band called Mudboy and the Neutrons in the 1970s. Jim Dickinson's solo recording career, rooted in Sun Studios session work in the 1960s, was in addition to studio and production work with a diverse list of musicians including Ry Cooder, the Rolling Stones, Big Star and the Replacements. Guitarist/vocalist Sid Selvidge and singer/washboardist Jimmy Crosthwait join Dickinson, along with Jimbo Mathus, Paul Taylor and Shannon McNally in a concerted effort to honor and extend the eclectic musical interests of their subject.
Its material comprised largely of traditional spirituals, Onward and Upward is no abstract devotional but a personal testament. The wavering pitch of the singing in "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" is, for example, simply a sign of the spontaneity at the heart of this project. "You Got to Walk That Lonesome Valley" is a celebration of the independent life (such as Jim Dickinson lived) as much as "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning" is an ode to self-discipline - muted, to be sure, but all the more heartfelt as all the singers and players join in.
Playing guitar and singing, Dickinson also wrote two pieces of his own for Onward and Upward. These tunes are as full of feeling as familiar traditional numbers such as "Glory Glory." "Let It Roll" is an instance of last-minute inspiration on the threshold of recording, and refers to more than just the tape recorders capturing the performances three days after the elder Dickinson's passing. Composed upon the death of Luther's grandmother, "Up Over Yonder" is subdued, as if catching the musicians in a moment of collective reflection. There is never a moment here, however, about the participants alone; the focus is directed squarely at the object of their reverence and respect.
Captured in no more than three takes and mastered directly from the two-track recordings free of any post-production, the emotion in the music, like the impetus behind the sessions, is true to the moment, with no self-consciousness. Onward and Upward is a project Jim Dickinson would be proud to have been part of and, in a very real sense, he is.
JSI Top 21 Reviews - #366
January 27, 2010
Lead guitarist from the Black Crowes unleashed Onward and Upward, a fantastic blend of blues and folk that is absolutely perfect. And I don't use the term lightly.
Produced with the rawness that made blues as wonderful as it is, and with the wailing that gave the genre its name, Onward and Upward is my favorite Dickinson recording to date. Solid.
-John Shelton Ivany
Blues Magazine (Dutch music site)
Onlangs is Blues legende Jim Dickinson overleden, en dat was een muziek producent en pianist, maar
ook een sessie muzikant en belangrijke leidraad in de Delta en Missisippi muziek. Zoon Luther een
van de leden van de North Mississippi All Stars heeft in dit album en ook het album met de South
Memphis String Band de erfenis min of meer een beetje verwerkt in de diverse songs, die rechtstreeks
met deze Luther te maken hadden. Op dit album hoor je dan ook voornamelijk Pure delta blues klanken,
zoals we die ook kennen van Peter Seeger, en Blind Willie Johnson, of Fred mc. Dowell. Pure blues
dus in al zijn schoonheid en simpelheid. resonerende gitaar, allerlei percussie er tussen door,
eenvoud siert de mens, kan je zeggen op dit album, waar wel heel veel gasten op mee doen trouwens,
maar de essentie van de nummers blijft onveranderd.
Deze schijf laat zien wat daar mee bedoeld wordt, en vooral dat het uniek in zijn soort is, en maar
weer eens aan geeft dat de legacy van de grote mannen als Mc. Dowell erg rijk is. Luther speelt
tegenwoordig buiten The North Miss. All Stars ook in de Black Crowes een toontje mee. laat je op
dit album verwennen met authentieke muziek die naar mijn idee nooit verloren gaat, en terecht weer
in de belangstelling staat. De tracks op zich zijn dingen waarvan velen echt als die Traditional
Delta Blues bestempeld kunnen worden, en een lekkere sfeer er aan geven, waarbij je je waant in de
wereld van de Mississippi in zijn aller mooiste glorie. In sommige nummers hoor je de invloed van
pappa Jim terug met de omstandigheden waarrin hij verkeerde, en ook songs die auto biografisch waren
en de invloeden van het baptist choir, wat een belangrijk bestanddeel was van het leven van de Dickinson's
Er staan prachtige uitvoeringen op van min of meer wel bekende nummers, maar mooi in gezongen en
gespeeld, door al deze mensen, waarbij de dames vocalen een extra tintje aan bepaalde nummers geven.
Beauties als Back Back Train, You Got To Walk That Lomesome Highway, hoor je bijna niet meer, en zijn
wat mij betreft zo vreselijk mooi. Ik vind dit album persoonlijk iets beter dan het album van de South
Memphis String Band, maar dat is aan een ieder persoonlijk. Advies, lekker een glas Whiskey pakken,
stoel achterover, en genieten met een hele grote GGGGG
-Frank van Engelen