Luther Dickinson, a founding member of The North Mississippi Allstars and a guitarist recently recruited into The Black Crowes, is only one member of The Sons of Mudboy, an impromptu gathering of musicians offering a posthumous tribute to Dickinson's father, Jim. The group's name constitutes a further homage to the elder Dickinson, who fronted a band called Mudboy and the Neutrons in the 1970s. Jim Dickinson's solo recording career, rooted in Sun Studios session work in the 1960s, was in addition to studio and production work with a diverse list of musicians including Ry Cooder
, the Rolling Stones, Big Star and the Replacements. Guitarist/vocalist Sid Selvidge and singer/washboardist Jimmy Crosthwait join Dickinson, along with Jimbo Mathus, Paul Taylor and Shannon McNally in a concerted effort to honor and extend the eclectic musical interests of their subject.
Its material comprised largely of traditional spirituals, Onward and Upward is no abstract devotional but a personal testament. The wavering pitch of the singing in "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" is, for example, simply a sign of the spontaneity at the heart of this project. "You Got to Walk That Lonesome Valley" is a celebration of the independent life (such as Jim Dickinson lived) as much as "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning" is an ode to self-disciplinemuted, to be sure, but all the more heartfelt as all the singers and players join in.
Playing guitar and singing, Dickinson also wrote two pieces of his own for Onward and Upward. These tunes are as full of feeling as familiar traditional numbers such as "Glory Glory." "Let It Roll" is an instance of last-minute inspiration on the threshold of recording, and refers to more than just the tape recorders capturing the performances three days after the elder Dickinson's passing. Composed upon the death of Luther's grandmother, "Up Over Yonder" is subdued, as if catching the musicians in a moment of collective reflection. There is never a moment here, however, about the participants alone; the focus is directed squarely at the object of their reverence and respect.
Captured in no more than three takes and mastered directly from the two-track recordings free of any post-production, the emotion in the music, like the impetus behind the sessions, is true to the moment, with no self-consciousness. Onward and Upward is a project Jim Dickinson would be proud to have been part of and, in a very real sense, he is.
Personnel: Luther Dickinson: vocals, guitar; Sid Selvidge: guitar, vocals; Jimmy Crosthwait: washboard, vocals: Jimbo Mathus: guitar, mandolin, banjo, vocals; Steve Selvidge: guitar, dobro, vocals; Paul Taylor: washtub bass; Shannon McNally: vocals.