the iconoclastic figures in the evolution of Southern rock and soul, James
Luther Dickinson (often known simply as “Jim”) helped helm and provide piano
accompaniment to a veritable who’s who of essential artists from the ‘60s
onward – among them Aretha Franklin, Sam and Dave, Jerry Jeff Walker, Ry
Cooder, the Replacements, Albert King, the Flaming Groovies, Kris Kristofferson
and Rita Coolidge… well, suffice it to say his list of credits is practically
endless. But while he’s parlayed his
studio success into a few individual outings – his first, Dixie Fried, featured Eric Clapton and Dr. John – his own albums
have been relatively rare. Equally
successful his associations with such industry legends as Jerry Wexler of
Atlantic Records and Sam Phillips of Sun, its been some time since Dickinson’s
stepped out from behind the boards and offered up a new solo set.
Dinosaurs Run in Circles is, apart
from its self-effacing title, a real treat.
Like the stoic-looking figure that stares out from the front cover, its
an unassuming effort, a casual session with only a pair of back-up players
(bassist Sam Shoup and drummer Tom Lonardo complete the trio) that runs down a
set of old, if mostly obscure, standards.
Obviously done with minimal takes – studio chatter precedes many of the
selections – the focus is on Dickinson’s gruff vocals and supple piano playing,
an echo of vintage barroom blues, barrelhouse blues and occasional boogie
woogie. In the process, he references
other immortals – Errol Garner, Dr. John, Leon Russell, Ray Charles – while
varying his template from spunky to sentimental. A feisty take on “Save the Bones for Henry
Jones (Cause He Don’t Eat No Meat)” and an unusual ode to a particular cabbage
salad on “Coleslaw” allow for levity, but listening to his reverent renditions
of “The Gypsy” and “When You Wish Upon a Star” he offers the impression that
this intimacy suits him best. Moreover,
these sessions suggest that here indeed a venerable old master is finally
claiming his place in the spotlight after spending much too much time toiling
in the trenches.
Standout tracks: “When You Wish Upon a Star,”
“Save the Bones for Henry Jones (Cause He Don’t Eat No Meat),” “The Gypsy” LEE