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.
Standout Tracks: “Let It Roll,” “Glory Glory” JEDD FERRIS