12 tracks / 42:41
The North Mississippi Allstars have been purveying their brand of swamp and hill country blues for more than twenty years, and each album they release is fresh and original. Their latest disc, Prayer for Peace, continues the trend as it delivers twelve tracks of lively music that is built around their unique sound. It is arguably the best recording they have done to date, and it is possibly the best new disc that has come across my desk this year.
The Allstars core includes three-time Grammy nominees Luther and Cody Dickinson, sons of the late producer and session musician, Jim Dickinson. Growing up in this household meant that these fellows were exposed to great music from a young age, and had access to legendary musicians such as R.L. Burnside, Otha Turner, and Junior Kimbrough. Luther fronts the band on guitar and vocals while Cody picks up the drums, piano and synths; all of it is presented with a distinctively hard-driving Mississippi sound.
Prayer for Peace was recorded in an unusual manner, as the guys’ studio schedule for this album was not exactly conventional. Some the content was laid down at their father’s Zebra Ranch in Hernando, Mississippi, but a great deal of the material was recorded while they were on tour in 2016. They would play shows at night and then hit the studio the next day while their energy was still high; these sessions took place in New Orleans, New York City, Austin, St. Louis, and Kansas City. Despite the different locales and recording consoles, the results are very consistent: a raw (but tight) and lively vibe.
Joining the brothers on this disc are some amazing artists, including bassists Oteil Burbridge (Allman Brothers Band, Dead & Company) and Dominic Davis (Jack White), guitarists Kenny Brown (R.L. Burnside and Mississippi Fred McDowell) and Graeme Lesh (Midnight North, The Terrapin Family Band), singer and fife player Shardé Thomas (daughter of Otha Turner), and vocalists Danielle Nicole and Sharisse Norman. This release features a few original tunes and a slew of classics and covers that are generally associated with other acts.
The album is bookended by the title track, and “Prayer for Peace“ has a modern sound with it lively bass and fife accents, and the vibe is deeply rooted in Mississippi – mostly due to the lovely gospel-like backing vocals. This song ventures into the political realm as it touches on tragedies in our society, and it delivers a message of family and hope that all of us can benefit from. The Allstars also use a remix of this tune to end the album, and it is quite different with the use of heavy effects on the vocals and a more sparse arrangement. Both versions are striking to listen to and effectively get the message across.
The other two original songs are way cool too. “Need to be Free” has a heavy swamp rock vibe, featuring Luther’s outstanding guitar tone and Cody’s powerful and relentless drumming — this is a killer blues jam no matter how you look at it. Then there is “Run Red Rooster,” which is equally heavy with the hill country master, Kenny Brown, pitching in on guitar. This cut was recorded at Memphis’ legendary Royal Studios, and the lyrics are based on the true story of a friend who bailed out of a car and took off through the woods to escape a police roadblock.
The covers are culled from the Dickinson brothers’ upbringing, and they are all reworked so that they fit in with the overall tone of Prayer for Peace. There is a trio of songs that were made famous by The Grateful Dead, including “Stealin’,” “Bid You Goodnight,” and “Deep Elum” (with Cody on the vocals). The listener also gets to hear a pair of Mississippi Fred McDowell tunes, “61 Highway” and “You Got to Move,” and three R.L. Burnside songs: “Bird Without a Feather,” “Long Haired Doney,” and “Miss Maybelle.” This last song was the first track they recorded for this project and it was done in one take. Without the synths this one has more of a classic sound, and Luther’s vocals really shine as they do a very respectable job on this classic.
Prayer for Peace has a dozen knockout tracks of roots and blues music, and the North Mississippi Allstars should be proud of the work they have done. It is well worth your time to give it a listen for yourself, and the band is on the road again to support it (it seems like they are always touring). Their tour schedule and details of how to get your own copy of the album can both be found on their website, so check it out and see what you think!