Artist: North Mississippi Allstars
Album: Prayer for Peace
Label: Sony Legacy
Release Date: 06.02.2017
Some bands prefer the control of a recording studio to achieve the sound they’re looking for, while others are all about playing live, feeding off the audience and ratcheting up the intensity. Brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson are clearly the latter type of musicians. Their live shows are joyous, high-energy affairs that demonstrate their musicianship — Luther’s guitar is right up there with the very best in the business and Cody is a talented drummer and multi-instrumentalist — as well as their deep knowledge of and respect for all forms of American roots music.
Still, creating new music in the studio is essential to expanding any band’s repertoire of material to perform live, and the Dickinsons’ latest CD, Prayer for Peace, is an impressive and important step forward for their catchall North Mississippi Allstars project. Like the Dickinsons’ music, NMAS is an improvisational group of musicians who record and appear live with the brothers. Sharing duties on bass on Prayer for Peace are Oteil Burbridge of the Allman Brothers Band and Dead & Company as well as Dominic Davis from Jack White’s band. (Davis has been touring with NMAS in support of the album; see our review of their New York show from the Bowery Ballroom.) Also appearing on the album are Grahame Lesh of the Terrapin Family Band, semi-regular NMAS fife player and singer Sharde´ Thomas and vocalists Danielle Nicole and Sharisse Norman.
The title track resonates in our discordant times. Given the daily doses of scandal and chaos that have become the norm, we all need a prayer for peace. Supporting Luther’s lead vocals are the lovely high-register sounds of Sharde´ Thomas’s fife and voice joining in the chorus of “color blind, color blind, wish we could be color blind.” The uplifting sounds and message turn darker as “Prayer for Peace” overlaps with “Need to be Free.” Luther’s raw slide work and Cody’s ominous drums drive lyrics reminiscent of Mississippi’s civil rights struggles: “Stand up for what I know is right, prayer for peace tonight. Mississippi, we all need to be free.”
But Prayer for Peace doesn’t overplay its hand in terms of political messaging, with plenty of old and new, borrowed and blue tunes to soften the edges. A lively take of “Deep Ellum” features Cody on vocals and a funky Little Feat beat that would make Lowell George proud. “Stealin” is pure country, “Miss Maybelle” a blues standard and “Run Red Rooster” an all-out rocker. There’s also a version of “You Got to Move,” a bluesy Southern spiritual covered long ago by the Rolling Stones on Sticky Fingers, an album produced by the late Jim Dickinson, Luther and Cody’s father. A jaunty “We Bid You Goodnight” fittingly closes the album, although certain editions also include an alternate take on the title track.
As fine a collection as Prayer for Peace is, no studio CD is a substitute for seeing NMAS live. Whatever the configuration — duo, as a power trio or with a full lineup of friends — NMAS shows are equal parts rock concert and old-time revival. They’re uplifting affairs particularly suited to our times. We’ve been looking for music to speak out on the issues of the day, to rekindle the spirit of standing up to corruption and injustice, and Prayer for Peace is among the first to do so. Thank you, Luther, Cody and all of the North Mississippi Allstars.