Some of the most exciting work in the country blues today is coming out of the Hill Country of North Mississippi, where the young generation of the Burnside klan, the Kimbrough klan and the Dickinson klan are keeping the old time musical traditions active, but not always acoustically. The sons of Jr. Kimbrough, R.L. Burnside and Jim Dickinson are at the helm now, and they are on fire with various respective projects. Luther Dickinson, foremost among them, is an old soul bluesman, a musically wise, prematurely masterful creatively brilliant tour de force of the country blues, one of Rolling Stone’s “New Top 20 Guitar Gods” (unsure if that is a blessing or a curse) whose blues style has been described as “a striking snake dance with a whooping slide”. This young man is at the peak of his creative mastery. Along with Alvin Youngblood Hart and Jimbo Mathus, he has established himself as one of the most significant artists in the genre today who are generating excitement for this music among young audience.
He and his brother Cody are the sons of the late Jim Dickinson, one of the most prominent producers and musicians in Memphis, Tennessee, and is well known to generations of blues fans as a constant presence in the work of Ry Cooder, and also for his famed work with Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. He ran a famous recording studio, the Zebraranch When it comes to deep roots American folk, blues & rock, Jim Dickinson was a master among masters.
Luther and Cody, the core of The North Mississippi Allstars, are apples that did not fall far from the tree. The sons made a name for themselves with a funky amalgam of totally cool old time blues, funk and rock many country blues standards, often played in the trance-repetitive rhythms of the juke joints of North Mississippi, especially that of the late Jr. Kimbrough.
Luther Dickinson has several amazing projects happening at present and he seems to be on an unbridled creative burst. He is still an active member of the North Mississippi Allstars and also the guitar player for the famous rock band The Black Crowes.
Of special interest to the country blues and folk audience are his new “side projects”. His new solo instrumental acoustic guitar album (2012) “Hambone Meditations” draws on the genius of his guitar idol, John Fahey, of Takoma Park, Maryland. It is at its core a country blues record. You can hear elements of Fred McDowell, John Hurt and Blind Willie Johnson, yet it has the playfulness of Fahey, the expressiveness of Brazilian jazz guitar virtuoso Egberto Gismonti and the unbridled freedom of Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence. All of this is probably because of the strong Fahey influence. All of this translates to highly sophisticated, elegant and transcendental blues guitar!
His fourth simultaneous project is touring with a group that he assembled, The Wandering, which includes five traditionally artists from Memphis and North Mississippi. Luther Dickinson formed a quartet with four distinctive women—Shannon McNally, Amy LaVere, Valerie June, and Sharde Thomas. Sharde is the grand-daughter of Otha Turner, the great fife and drum bluesman and the leader of the Rising Star Fife and Drum band. Folk/blues singer Valerie June is already featured in this directory, and is one of the most important folk roots voices today. Shannon McNally is a wonderful folk singer/songwriter and guitarist and Amy LaVere a superb upright bassist.
Together they are a remarkable roots/folk/blues ensemble, enough to make the country blues community jump with joy.
That’s not even it. Luther Dickinson also performs as part of the South Memphis String Band with Alvin Youngblood Hart and Jimbo Mathus (formerly with the Squirrel Nut Zippers). They were declared an “acoustic super group” and recorded two albums on the Memphis International Records label – “Home Sweet Home” 2012 and “Old Times There” in 2012. Between them they cover blues, folk, gospel and songster music covering the past hundred years on guitar, mandolin, banjo and more.
If anything exciting is happening in the acoustic blues scene today, Luther Dickinson is there and it looks like he is the life force of the genre today. Right now you can criss cross America and you won’t find a more exciting scene, or a more exciting musician. This is guy is the future of the genre embodied and personified.