The independent streak Luther Dickinson's been nurturing in the last eighteen months is inextricably tied to his prolific output. Completing a prolonged stint with The Black Crowes, he returned to The North Mississippi Allstars and, even as he continues to work with that trio (and on occasion as the NMA Duo with brother drummer Cody Dickinson), he appears sporadically with The Word, whose lineup includes keyboardist extraordinaire John Medeski and steel guitar wunderkind Robert Randolph. In the meantime, Dickinson also created a solo project for himself, Hambone's Meditation, and engaged in a brand-new collaborations called The Wandering who brought forth the extraordinary Go On Now, You Can't Stay Here. Both released on NMA's Songs of the South label, these albums are available digitally as well as in CD packaging that is both understated and elegant, as befits the music inside.
On his all-instrumental album, Dickinson allows himself to luxuriate in a restful space that belies his restless creative nature. Yet Hambone's Meditations is less an exercise in technical self-indulgence than a rediscovery of roots that, in the form of "Arkabutla," thoroughly exhibits a tuneful quality that makes it simultaneously durable and accessible.
This all-acoustic affair, subtitled "Mississippi Folk Music Volume 2," features Luther playing a variety of instruments including guitars and mandolins as featured on the hauntingly-titled "Death Comes on Wings of Crepe." While he may be taking liberties by assuming composing credit of "Blind Lemon and The Hook Man," such artistic assumptions are part of the tradition he's honoring and preserving: the tune itself is a virtual compendium of archetypal country blues motifs rendered by Dickinson with equal parts grace and facility.
The Wandering's Go On Now, You Can't Stay Here is the most unconventional of the recent Dickinson projects, including the South Memphis String Band. As with that unit, Luther may be the titular leader, but he is merely the lightning rod for a channeling of collective inspiration amongst banjoist Valerie June, bassist Amy LaVere, drummer Sharde Thomas and guitarist/vocalist Shannon McNally. The Wandering is strikingly bold in a choice of material that ranges from a traditional such as "Glory Glory" to a contemporary tune such as Kris Kristofferson's "Lovin' Her Was Easier Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again."
Though hardly just homage to roots then, particularly when it comes to The Byrds' tongue-in-cheek "Mr. Spaceman," authentic strains of country, folk, gospel and blues permeate the singing and playing on this wide range of material. Using largely acoustic instruments (as well as the unique sounds of instruments such as kazoo), this quintet reinforces the timeless quality of great songs like "You Are My Sunshine" and accomplishes what great interpretative artists invariably seek to do, that is, rediscover the truth and beauty in familiar tunes. For instance, how ironic exactly is Howlin' Wolf's "Sittin' On Top of the World?"
Though Luther Dickinson's presence is definitely understated during the course of Go On Now, You Can't Stay Here, it is more than a little symbolic that he stands dead center in the CD cover portrait. The spiritualism implicit in The Wandering's moniker runs through LaVere's cryptic liner essay and, like the music to which the essay refers, it is as deeply felt, in as eloquent a fashion.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Death Comes On Wings of Crepe; Blind Lemon and the Hook Man; Breckenridge Blues; Arkabutla; Tallahatchee (Birds of the Moon); Old Gospel Medley I; Old Gospel Medley II.
Tracks: Sittin' On Top of the World; Mr. Spaceman; Lovin' Him Was Easier Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again; Sentimental Blues; Old Joe Clark; Love, Life and Money; Glory, Glory; The Outlaw; If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day; The Blues Jumped a Rabbit; In the Pines; You Are My Sunshine.