Keys to the Kingdom from The North Mississippi Allstars, (singer and guitarist Luther Dickinson, brother Cody on drums and Chris Chew on bass), is a rootsy tribute to southern musical traditions and their father Jim Dickinson — who recorded alongside musical luminaries such as Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin and The Rolling Stones, playing piano on the 1971 classic Wild Horses.
The brothers Dickinson, as children lived on a gravel road between a juke joint and a lake where churches performed baptismal services. “I remember hearing the music come through the woods at night and on Sunday mornings,” said Luther. Soon they were cutting their teeth as performers, marinating in the regional styles and the influence of their musician and producer father, who brought them into the studio early on to flesh out albums by artist such as The Replacements and Mojo Nixon.
Keys to the Kingdom, their latest release, an amalgamation of blues, gospel, and rock n’ roll, was recorded at the family studio, Zebra Ranch, and thematically mourns their father’s passing. The hauntingly visceral musicianship of the album is augmented by lyrics about trips to the pearly gates on “The Meeting,” featuring vocals by Mavis Staples; the bliss of the afterlife on “Jelly Roll All Over Heaven,” and bravery on judgment day on “Ain’t No Grave,” with longtime family collaborator Ry Cooder on guitar.
The album credits read: produced for Jim Dickinson. On his deathbed, the elder Dickinson, unable to speak, wrote a request for them to record Bob Dylan’s Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again — which The Allstars bring back home hill-county blues style. “Our dad used to say that production in absentia is the highest form of production,”
Luther, who recorded and toured with the Black Crowes for their last two albums, Warpaint and Before the Frost . . .Until the Freeze, is a master of blues and rock guitar, demonstrating prowess with slide, finger picking and scorching improvisations. Cody switches to guitar for another side project, Hill Country Revue. The band has also performed as The Word with John Medeski (keyboards) and Robert Randolph (pedal-steel guitar) and has toured with John Hiatt.
The Allstars first album, Shake Hands with Shorty, released in 2000 earned them a Grammy nomination for “Best Contemporary Blues Album.” They are true bluesmen, embodying an ethos that predates our current musical landscape fraught with glamorous images, sensational headlines, and auto-tune.
The Allstars are opening for Robert Plant & The Band of Joy and performing headlining shows across the United States and Europe, including shows in San Francsico:
Friday (March 11) & Saturday (March 12) at The Independent. Note: They will also be performing earlier on Saturday (March 12) at 2:00 p.m. in the Amoeba Music store, 1855 Haight St., San Francisco.
Their current tour will continue through the end of July. For a full, and complete list of tour dates for NMA, visit Thrillcall.com.
From The North Mississippi Allstars’ latest album, Keys to the Kingdom, “The Meeting”: