Allstars Outdo Themselves in Tribute to Dad
Review of “Keys to the Kingdom” by North Mississippi Allstars
Sounds of the South, 2011When I was still a novice record buyer in the 1960s & early 70s, I had an almost fool proof method of deciding
when to buy a record by someone I’d never heard. The method required me to scan the list of
sidemen, producers, engineers, songwriters etc. who had helped out with the album. Names like RyCooder, David Bromberg, Red Rhodes, Ed Freeman, Paul Griffin, Pete Carr, Charlie McCoy, Russ Kunkel,and Jim Dickinson were names that appeared on a lot of albums I liked, and if I found they were playing
on an album, I’d be more likely to buy it.
Dickinson played on many of my favorite records, in particular, ones by Ry Cooder and the RollingStones. When I found out some
years ago that his sons, Luther & Cody, were 2/3’s of the NorthMississippi Allstars, I was anxious to hear them. Although “On the Road (Furry’s Blues)” is the finestremake of Furry Lewis’ “Kassie Jones” ever, I wasn’t that crazy about the rest of their stuff. It was a little
too blues-rock/jam band for me.
Over the years I’ve listened to them off and on and although I
appreciated their talent, it was their side projects, like the South Memphis String Band, the Hill CountryRevue or their sideman work with Jimbo Mathis that impressed me most.
“Key’s to the Kingdom” is their newest album and it was recorded just after their father, Jim, passed
away from complications from bypass heart surgery and just after the birth of
son. Atthe time their father got sick, the two brothers were no longer playing together, having put the NorthMississippi Allstar
’s on hold while Luther went on tour with the Black Crowes & Cody with the Hill
With their father’s illness and death, they were brought back home where together
with their band
mate Chris Chews and some of their father’s old friends,
they entered their Zebra Studioand produced a great album tribute to the man who alwa
ys told them “they played better together thanthey ever did apart.”
From the beginning of this album, you get the feeling that the brothers were trying to write from their
late father’s point of view. The album is a tribute to him, he’s listed as the pr
oducer on the record and
on the back cover it says “Produced for Jim Dickinson”.
The opening cut begins with the singer saying
“I hate to be treated this a’way”
. We all know that death
is inevitable, but we still don’t like it. Well
-schooled in the blues tradition of lifting lines from otherblues songs to create new ones, Luther borrows liberally in this one, taking the opening line from
“Samson and Delilah” by Rev Gary Davis and others.
also mentions “two white horses in a line”
which can be traced back to Blind Lemon Jefferson. The second cut,
kicks things upa little and falls into a joking kind of anger where the singer
sings “Hey hey, well, well, all ya’ll can gostraight to hell/you’ve seen the last of me pissin’ in your wishin’ well.”
By now he’s ready to laugh at his
fate, but not without some bitterness.