Tuesday, June 20, 2017

North Mississippi Allstars - Prayer For Peace; "Honoring the Process" with Cody and Luther Dickinson, This Album Rocks



Photo courtesy of Premiere Guitar

When I first got into Luther Dickinson's latest solo album Blues & Ballads last year, it sounded so good that I went off in search of whatever else Dickinson was involved with, Shardé Thomas too. Dickinson's "day job" was in his family's band The North Mississippi Allstars.

A quick listen to that group's latest release at the time didn't quite do it for me, not like Blues & Ballads. I went to see Dickinson when he came to Philadelphia's World Cafe Live and his live performance was all that (Thomas' too).

The North Mississippi Allstars just released a new album Prayer For Peace on Friday, June 2nd. I just finished listening to it and I am pleased to say that it is a record with many of the same attributes that I couldn't get enough of on the Luther solo album, plus the heavy drums and bass on this record could rock any arena in the land.

Prayer For Peace is the epitome of roots and Americana, if we must attach a label to it. There are lots of rockin' blues and it's electric all the way, except for one acoustic number, "Stealin". I may be new to the Allstars but it seems that Luther's participation on this record is more than previous. Thomas also appears playing fife and singing on the lead track, "Prayer For Peace".

I would be remiss if I didn't mention, at this point, just what the record is all about. The album opens with the title track, and no matter what your politics may be, I think we can all agree that we need a prayer for peace and we need it now.


NMA/Press Photo

The blues classics that inspired the likes of the Rolling Stones are here in force. A prime example is their version of Mississippi Fred McDowell's "You Got to Move" which sounds amazing in the gifted hands of the Allstars.

I also hear a lot of Jerry Garcia in Luther Dickinson. Not specifically his style of playing or singing, but the breadth of his knowledge of American music; he knows all the roots of rock from blues to gospel to country to soul and jazz. Garcia's encyclopedic repertoire included all of these forms of music, and more. Garcia used many incarnations to express the well of music that was within him, from duets to bluegrass and old-timey ensembles to the Jerry Garcia Band and the Grateful Dead.

The Dead comparisons to Prayer For Peace will be inevitable, what with the Allstars playing "Deep Ellum". When I think of this song, my first thought is the Dead's iconic version from their all acoustic live album Reckoning. But this "Deep Ellum" is solidly electric, it is sung by drummer Cody Dickinson, and is a highlight of the album.

Another reminder of Garcia and Company comes in the form of "Bid You Goodnight"; I've heard this song, or a variant, close out many a Dead show. This song has a guitar tone as sweet as on any George Benson album, with superb slide guitar. It sounds amazingly good the way it's sequenced on the record coming after a piece of rockin' blues, "Long Haired Doney", that is just as impressive for its gritty rootsiness.

All this leaves me with just one thought, if you're into electric guitar, this is heaven. The guitars growl, purr, pound, and soar. There is slide guitar that would make even Nashville's best players weep. And all this is in the service of making some rootsy rural blues sound both old and new at the same time. Whether it's the North Mississippi Allstars or the next chapters of Luther's solo career, I say bring it on. I still can't get enough.

Introduction to "Prayer for Peace" by North Mississippi Allstars on VEVO.

Tracklist: Click on each song title to listen.
01. Prayer for Peace
02. Need to be Free
03. Miss Maybelle
04. Run Red Rooster
05. Stealin
06. Deep Ellum
07. Bird Without a Feather
08. You Got to Move
09. 61 Highway
10. Long Haired Doney
11. Bid You Goodnight
12. P4P 2017

North Mississippi Allstars - Prayer For Peace
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The Press Release:
Prayer for Peace is the 8th studio album for North Mississippi Allstars. The album is self-produced by the Dickinson Brothers. It was recorded across the US at 6 different studios including the famous Royal Studios in Memphis with Boo Mitchell & their legendary father Jim Dickinson’s Zebra Ranch in Hernando, MS. Special guests on the album include bassist Oteil Burbridge (Allman Brothers Band, Dead & Company), Graeme Lesh (Midnight North, The Terrapin Family Band), vocalist Sharisse Norman, bassist Dominic Davis (Jack White), and singer/fife player Shardé Thomas, daughter of Mississippi blues giant Otha Turner. North Mississippi Allstars is a 3 time Grammy nominated band for Best Contemporary Blues Album.


Photo courtesy of Grateful Web

Luther Dickinson talked with Chuck Armstrong about the making of Prayer For Peace for the Boot on June 2, 2017 (excerpts):
One of the biggest turning points in Luther Dickinson’s life was when he was befriended and mentored by one of the greatest blues fife players of all time, Otha Turner. Turner took Dickinson under his wing, and though Turner died in 2003, Dickinson is still connected to him, as he and Turner’s granddaughter, Shardé Turner, remain partners in crime.

“You know, we mixed our first record, [Shake Hands With Shorty], on a piece-of-crap board, and it changed our lives,” Luther Dickinson remembers. “But this new one, we really honored the whole process.”

“This record has been the smoothest ever,” Dickinson says with a huge smile on his face. “We made the record on the road: We recorded for a few hours in Brooklyn, a few hours in New Orleans, a few hours in St. Louis, a day at Royal Studios in Memphis.”

It was that session at Royal Studios that was actually the beginning of Prayer for Peace: The great Boo Mitchell sat behind the board while the Dickinsons recorded, and Dickinson gives Mitchell the credit for injecting the perfect vibe into the album.

“You know, he was “Uptown Funk,” man,” Dickinson tells The Boot. “That was recorded right there. Boo is just magical.”

Another guy to whom Dickinson is quick to dole out credit for the Allstars’ new LP’s sound is Buddy Miller: “He’s the one who showed me the light,” Dickinson admits.

“Not only are we playing live in the studio, but we’re singing live. A while ago, [Miller] told us to not overdub: If you need a banjo, call the banjo player; if you need voices, call the girls and wait for them. Get everyone together and do it,” Dickson continues. “And the underlying theme of all of that is actually committing to live vocals. If the artist commits to that, 98 percent of the problems are solved — the record is made! All the classic music that I like, that’s how it was all made.”

While some artists might struggle putting a record together in a number of different studios and cities, the North Mississippi Allstars seemed to thrive in those conditions.

“For us — especially being sons of a record producer — for us to come in and casually record while being in the mindset of being on the road, that was actually really easy,” Dickinson explains. “That’s smooth, you know? We’re in and out with that live spirit.”

The process, though, wasn’t just about Luther and Cody: “Chris Bell mixed the record, and he glued it all together. Jeff Powell, who cut the vinyl at Sam Phillips Recording, he’s got a lathe in there and did it all, and they even cleaned out the old Sam Phillips echo chamber,” Dickinson notes. “That echo chamber, it’s this organic wall of magic, man; I get goosebumps thinking about it. My whole career, I never had a real echo chamber. I knew about it, but it never dawned on me that it was the tangible, physical thing that’s always been missing.”

As he reflects on the journey of Prayer for Peace, Dickinson remembers the advice his dad always shared: “Our father used to say, ‘Honor the process. Trust the process,'” he says. “On this one, we let everybody do their jobs. The process was honored.”

And when the process is honored, everything works out.

“I believe, in my heart, that music is a realm in which we can commune with musical spirits,” Dickinson announces. “It’s a place where we can all transcend. It’s in my heart. It’s what I believe, and that’s what I’m doing when I’m playing music.”

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Tedeschi-Trucks Band Rocked Philadelphia; Marc Broussard Played a Sizzling Opening Set; 6/08/2017




On June 8th, the Merriam Theater was very nearly sold out; only single straggler tickets remained. Thursday night was the first of a three night stand for the Tedeschi-Trucks Band. This night was the only one with an opening act, Marc Broussard, and he made sure that this jam band crowd was glad that they got Thursday tickets. I suspect that many of Tedeschi-Trucks Band's fans bought tickets for more than one show. The Friday and Saturday concerts featured the Tedeschi-Trucks Band playing both sets.



Marc Broussard took the stage promptly at 8pm and delivered a tight forty minute set. Accompanied by Joe Stark on lead guitar, DJ Raymond on bass and Chad Gilmore on drums, Broussard sang and played guitar. After his opening number, the next three songs fit perfectly together forming one long track (11:09). "Try Me" nicely turned into "Fire on the Bayou" (covering The Meters), which led into a cover of Al Green's "Love and Happiness"; watch the video below. Next up was a preview of his next album. It was "Baton Rouge", Broussard mentioned that this was an old Frankie Miller song.

Broussard played a good mix of originals and covers, all showing his Louisiana roots. Next two more songs together, "Dyin' Man" and "Home" to make another eleven plus+ minute track. Broussard closed his set with a nice cover of Solomon Burke's "Cry To Me". This came from Broussard's last album S.O.S. 2 (Save Our Soul), his second collection of old soul covers. I would have liked to hear him do some more of the soul songs, but that's not a complaint. I had been wanting to see this guy for years, and he quite made the most out of his forty minutes.

Watch "Try Me/Fire on the Bayou/Love and Happiness"


Setlist: Click linked song titles to watch.
01. Lonely Night in Georgia
02. Try Me>>
03. Fire on the Bayou (The Meters cover)>>
04. Love and Happiness (Al Green cover)
05. Baton Rogue (Frankie Miller cover)
06. Dyin' Man>>
07. Home>>
08. Cry To Me (Solomon Burke cover)

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I find it remarkable that the Tedeschi-Trucks Band has found such a large and loyal following, without the benefit of even one hit record. On this tour they filled the Merriam Theater for three consecutive nights, capacity 1,870. Friday and Saturday night's shows were scheduled for two sets each night by the TTB, but Thursday night's crowd was warmed up by a red hot set by Marc Broussard.

After about a twenty-five minute break, the Tedeschi-Trucks Band opened their part of the night's proceedings with "Laugh About It". The band's most recent release is a two CD live album, Live from the Fox Oakland, and a check of Thursday night's setlist reveals that they only did four songs that appear on that album. Further examination of the three Merriam setlists shows that there was only one song played all three nights, a new song called "Shame". "Shame" was so new, in fact, that Setlist.fm reports that it made its live debut at Thursday night's show. Beyond that, there were six more songs from Thursday's set that were repeated one time, mostly at Saturday's show. In addition to giving their fans reason to see all of their Philadelphia shows, they are firmly in the jam band tradition of significantly changing their sets from night to night.

The show offered a mix of originals and imaginative covers that ranged from Derek and the Dominos to Foghat to George Jones and also included Allen Toussaint, Billy Taylor, Bobby “Blue” Bland, and they even added a Santana's "Soul Sacrifice" finish to "I Want More". That finish worked brilliantly for Santana at Woodstock and it sounded just as good at the Merriam. While they played "Anyday" I thought to myself that I might call this article "The New Derek and the Dominos".

In addition to the terrific setlist, the show had lots of great bluesy vocals by Susan Tedeschi. There were plenty of nice long songs with plenty of room for the musicians to stretch out with extended solos. There were a couple of flute solos, I loved the organ solos, there were trumpet solos and a short drum solo. But the main event was clearly birthday boy Derek Trucks' amazing slide guitar with tons of room for his screaming solos. Case and point, the almost self fulfilling title "I Want More" clocking in at nearly 19 minutes.

Many thanks to The Merriam Theater for the lighting and sound. Thanks also to Beverly Kates for camera work and to Lindsey Mitchell for video production.

Watch "Bound For Glory"


Setlist: Click linked song titles to watch.
01. Laugh About It
02. Do I Look Worried
03. Chevrolet (Foghat cover)
04. Anyday (Derek and the Dominos cover)
05. It's So Heavy
06. Let Me Get By
07. Get Out of My Life, Woman (Allen Toussaint cover)
08. Color of the Blues (George Jones cover)
09. Right on Time
10. Shame
11. I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free (Billy Taylor cover)
12. I Pity the Fool (Bobby “Blue” Bland cover)
13. I Want More>>Soul Sacrifice (Santana) outro
Encore:
14. Bound for Glory

Bonus Video: Watch a thirteen year old Derek Trucks play the Coda to Derek and the Domino's "Layla", July 4, 1993, Walnut Creek Ampitheater, Raleigh , NC, opening for The Allman Brothers Band.


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Sunday, June 11, 2017

Art Pepper - The Art Pepper Quartet (feat. Russ Freeman, Ben Tucker & Gary Frommer) [2017 Remaster]; A Sixtieth Anniversary Celebration of a Jazz Master Work


Photo courtesy of Tampa Records

Art Pepper was an iconic jazz saxophonist who was fifty-six when he died in 1982. Laurie Pepper has made it her mission to maintain Art's legacy and to keep his work available. She has acquired many of his master recordings and oversees the reissues, sometimes with bonus material.

The Art Pepper Quartet is one of those classic albums that has just been remastered in honor of its sixtieth anniversary. This outing is one of Art's masterpieces, showing the range of his prodigious talent. The three other musicians in the quartet are also extremely high caliber: Russ Freeman on piano, Ben Tucker on bass and Gary Frommer on drums. "Diane" is a gorgeous composition that, we learn from the liner notes, was written about one of Art's previous wives. "Blues at Twilight", in addition to having some beautiful saxophone, also features extended solos by Freeman and Tucker.

The bonus tracks offered here take a terrific album and make it even better. Being able to hear the studio process, recording "Val's Pals" with the false starts and alternate takes, is utterly fascinating.

Pepper was a master saxophonist in all of his styles, but I want to draw your attention to the second bonus track, "Blues at Twilight" (track #9). I love, love, love when Pepper plays blues, ballads, and mood pieces. I can't think of anyone who is better at painting an emotion or mood with a sax. The released version of "Blues at Twilight" excels in all the ways I've described, and even though the bonus track is an alternate take of the same song, you can hear a difference of interpretation. While I love the original, the alternate take positively blows my mind.

I thank Laurie Pepper for this remarkable reissue. This album is extraordinary in a number of ways. It sounds absolutely amazing. You would never know that these sessions are sixty plus years old: this record sounds like it could have been recorded yesterday. I want to specifically recommend either the CD or the iTunes download of the 2017 remaster because they both come with the CD booklet. It contains the liner notes that Don Clark wrote for the original album cover. There are also new liner notes penned by Laurie Pepper, and in an excellent essay she describes buying the master from the original label as they were about to go out of business. She talks about all the labels who fail to pay royalties and she weaves a compelling tale. Laurie has become a musicologist and a jazz historian with a most unique vantage point from which she is able to describe events first-hand. Her piece gives context to the music with insight that is very rare. In Laurie's notes we also learn that this album is her personal favorite of all Art Pepper's career. I think that with some repeat listening, it could become mine as well.

Art Pepper - Art Pepper Quartet (2017 Remaster)

Buy at Amazon
Buy at iTunes
Stream on Spotify

About the versions: This article refers to the 2017 remaster. There is also a 2015 release of this album, which is still available at Bandcamp. That version has the tracks in a different sequence with the bonus tracks first. It also contains fewer takes of "Val's Pals". And although I don't have definitive information on this, in my estimation the 2017 remaster has upgraded sound quality. There is just one more difference; the 2015 version has an additional track that is not contained on the 2017 remaster. That is track #13, which is labeled "Bésame snip, stream." For the sake of completeness, I will mention that iTunes also has a bargain priced download of the original seven track album, which is credited to the K-Tel record label. It is unclear whether this is the 2015 version of the album or some prior master.

Tracklist: Click song title to listen
01 Art's Opus
02 I Surrender Dear
03 Diane
04 Pepper Pot
05 Bésame Mucho
06 Blues At Twilight
07 Val's Pal
08 Pepper Pot
09 Blues At Twilight
10 Val's Pal (Take 1)
11 Val's Pal (Take 2, Take 3 False Start & Take 4)
12 Val's Pal (Take 5 & Take 6 False Start)

A. Warhol (http://revolverauctions.com/)

The Press Release:
Recorded in late 1956 and released in early 1957, the same year as the landmark Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section, The Art Pepper Quartet (Art Pepper: saxophone, Russ Freeman: piano, Ben Tucker: bass, Gary Frommer: drums) is back for its 60th anniversary. Mastered from the original mono tapes by Grammy®-winning engineer Michael Graves, this CD and Digital edition was overseen by Art’s widow, Laurie Pepper, and Grammy®-winning producer, Cheryl Pawelski. In addition to the album’s 7 classics, this remaster includes 5 bonus tracks—alternate takes of “Pepper Pot” and “Blues At Twilight” (originally issued in 1990 in Japan) and a journey through the creation of “Val’s Pal” (including previously unheard incomplete takes and false starts) via 3 more tracks. New liner notes from Laurie Pepper trace the story of how her (and many folks’) favorite Art Pepper record was not only conceived, but ended up back where it belongs—with Art’s estate, and in the eyes, ears, and hands of jazz lovers everywhere. A gem on all fronts—this is how Jazz (and its history) should be experienced. Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome back The Art Pepper Quartet.


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Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Laura Marling - TLA, Philadelphia, 5/18/2017; Marling's Semper Femina Tour Stopped On South Street, Valley Queen Opened




Laura Marling played the Theater of the Living Arts (TLA) on South Street Friday, May 18th. The show may not have sold out, but Marling drew a good size crowd of her faithful. Marling began her set by doing seven consecutive songs from her new album, Semper Femina.

Often when the artist has a new album the audience sits politely through the new stuff waiting for the old favorites that they came to hear. Judging by the crowd reaction to Marling's new material, I was certainly not alone in coming to the show specifically to hear tracks from Semper Femina. She returned to the album later in the set for a total of eight out of its nine songs. The only one off the new album that she didn't play is "Nouel".

Over the course of six albums, Marling has perfected a rather unique style of talk-singing. The songs on Semper Femina are mostly more singing than talking, and most include her band. At the TLA, her touring band was excellent, consisting of musicians who played on the record, Simon Ribchester on guitar, Nick Pini on double bass and Matt Ingram on drums. Marling also had two backup singers, Tamsin Topolski and Emma Topolski. I'd never seen Marling perform with backing vocalists, but the addition was really nice.




After those first seven songs, Marling played solo acoustic on the next three, dipping back into Once I Was An Eagle for "Pray for Me". She followed that with a Townes Van Zandt cover "For The Sake Of The Song". Next, she played "Wild Once" which was one of my favorite tracks from Semper Femina; this was perhaps the highlight of the show for me. It is most unusual to hear any form of a regional accent in a singer, however in "Wild Once" Marling sounds thoroughly British, and that is one of the things I love about the song.

The Topolski sisters returned to the stage to accompany Marling on "Daisy", a quasi-rarity from the Short Movie album. Originally only available on the vinyl version, "Daisy" was contained on a bonus 7" single. Subsequently, Short Movie has been reissued in a "Director's Cut" deluxe edition with four bonus tracks. These tracks are essential for fans, two of them are alternate versions of songs on the album, although you've never heard Marling rock out as much as she does on these two tracks. The other two are the songs from that bonus 7" vinyl, "David" and "Daisy". If you already got the Short Movie album, the bonus tracks are available separately at iTunes.

Staying with Short Movie, the band returned to the stage as Marling played "How Can I". "Sophia" was mostly solo acoustic then the band joined in for a high intensity ending that sounded terrific. After "Once" (from Once I Was An Eagle), Marling gave her "no encore" policy explaining that if you wanted an encore, that was the last song and the next will be the encore. If not, she continued, this will be my last song, and with that she played "Rambling Man" from I Speak Because I Can, closing the show with her oldest song of the night.

Many thanks to the TLA for the lighting and the sound. Thanks also to Beverly Kates for the camera work and to Lindsey Mitchell for video production.

Watch "Wild Once"


Setlist: Click linked songs to watch video
01. Soothing
02. Wild Fire
03. The Valley
04. Don't Pass Me By
05. Always This Way
06. Next Time
07. Nothing, Not Nearly
08. Pray For Me
09. For The Sake Of The Song (Townes Van Zandt cover)
10. Wild Once
11. Daisy
12. How Can I
13. Sophia
14. Once
15. Rambling Man






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Opening the show was Valley Queen, a group that front woman Natalie Carol describes as an "L.A. based California soul/psychedelic country band." With Carol playing guitar and singing lead, her band consisted of Shawn Morones on guitar, Neil Wogensen on bass, and Gerry Doot on drums. Their debut EP was released earlier this year and contains five tracks, six if you use their Bandcamp page. Their seven song set was warmly received by the TLA crowd.

About Valley Queen, The Village Voice said, "...Carol has stayed true to her roots while embracing the psychedelia of California rock--and making some damn good music along the way." Check out their TLA performance in the following videos.

Watch "Gems and Rubies"


Setlist - Click linked songs to watch video
01. Carnival
02. In My Place
03. Hold On You
04. Stars Align
05. My Man
06. Gems & Rubies
07. Ride



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