On May 8, guitarist Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars, Black Crowes) will be releasing three records, all with different players and feels. One is an acoustic instrumental guitar record called Hambone’s Meditation. One is a band called The Wandering featuring female singers from Memphis and North Mississippi. The other is Old Times There…, the second record from South Memphis String Band featuring Dickinson, Alvin Youngblood Hart and Jimbo Mathus. Hambone’s Meditation and The Wandering will be released on the North Mississippi Allstars label Songs of the South. Old Times There… will be released on Memphis International.
"I grew up on John Fahey," says Dickinson. "Hambone’s Meditations is in his Tacoma tradition, but it was Jack Rose who made me realize that the medium of instrumental guitar was there for me to utilize. It had never occurred to me to try it myself and it was a satisfying relief when I did. I write musical ideas all the time and writing this record felt as natural as breathing. This record was very timely in my life as well. My daughter was just an infant as I wrote this material and I was still meditating on my father’s passing. The music fit the mood of the Mississippi winter of 2009."
The Wandering gathers five traditionally-minded artists from Memphis and North Mississippi and features the string work of Dickinson and a quartet of distinctive female voices – Shannon McNally, Amy LaVere, Valerie June, and Sharde Thomas, Otha Turner’s granddaughter and erstwhile leader of the Rising Star Fife and Drum band. The women are all accomplished musicians, and it was actually for this reason that Luther initially gathered them together.
"The idea for the band came together one day when I saw a picture of Valerie playing the banjo, which led me to think about Amy playing upright bass, which led me to think about Sharde playing drums and Shannon playing guitar," says Dickinson. "So I called them up and arranged a session. We had no idea what to expect and I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but it couldn’t have been lovelier."
The record was cut at the Dickinson family’s Zebra Ranch studio in Coldwater, Mississippi in just three days, and Luther recalls that the music fell readily into place. The group’s repertoire includes traditional standards and classic Americana from Southern-born artists including Robert Johnson, Kris Kristofferson, Little Willie John, Ray Charles and Sid Selvidge.
For the second South Memphis String Band record, Dickinson, Hart and Mathus dig deep into a repository of songs that reflect the essential "southern-ness" of their common background and recruited a fourth member, Justin Showah, to help them delve into that musical heritage. The songs SMSB has chosen to record for the Old Times There… are reflective of the legacy of slavery, Civil War, reconstruction, Jim Crow-sanctioned segregation and its aftermath.
On April 21, Dickinson released a 78 rpm 10" via the San Francisco-based label Tompkins Square, on which he plays medleys of Southern melodies including "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah/Beautiful Dreamer" on the A side and "Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen/Peace in the Valley" on the B side.