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James Luther Dickinson - Killers from Space Print E-mail
Saturday, 01 September 2007
format:    16-bit CD
performance:    7
sound:    7
released:    2007
label:    Memphis International
reviewer:    John Sutton-Smith

ImageJames Luther Dickinson is perhaps the best-known unknown musician Memphis has ever produced. As a band leader, session player and producer, his legacy stretches back to the early '60s as a producer for Ry Cooder, the Replacements, Big Star, Green on Red, Mudhoney and (the upcoming album from) John Hiatt, and as a session man for the Stones, Aretha, Dylan and Duane Allman. Jim’s piano playing is familiar to anyone who has listened to the Stones’ “Wild Horses” or Dylan’s Time Out of Mind, and his music plays behind such movies as Paris Texas, The Border, and Crossroads. These days, he’s perhaps best known as the father of Luther and Cody of the North Mississippi All-Stars.

Dickinson had recorded only one studio album under his own moniker in 34 years, until last year’s Jungle Jim & the Voodoo Tiger. So it is a welcome surprise that, little more than a year later, lightning speed in Dickinson time, comes Killers from Space, a robust set of eclectic bluesy rockers and country gems collected and produced by Jim along with David Less from Memphis International.

Rarely known for writing his own songs – only the jazzy, Mose Allison-exercise “Morning After the Night Before” is the rare original here – Dickinson chooses from a variety of relatively obscure country classics, like Doug Sahm’s “Texas Me” that kicks off the album and the winsome “No, No Never Again” and “Lonely Nights,” as well as soulful numbers like “I Was a Champion” and “I Need You.”
Having essentially raised his own band, Jim uses them to full advantage, making full use of their youthful power. Most of the tracks, like “You Better Rock Me Baby” and “Dirty on Yo Mama,” benefit from the intelligence and chemistry between All-Stars sons Cody on drums and Luther on guitar, and bass player Paul Taylor. These guys have been playing together since infancy and under fine tutelage are, at a relatively young age, probably as good as any session band in Memphis right now.

Dickinson the elder plays the keyboards, soulful, bluesy and honky-tonk, while offering his expressive signature vocal. His take on “I Need You” is a highlight, although it isn’t quite so successful on ”Nature Boy,” a newer song once performed by DDT, Cody, Luther and Taylor’s pre-All Stars punk band, many years ago. Guest players include Johnny Reno on sax and Chris Scruggs, grandson of Earl, on dobro.

Recorded earlier this year at Dickinson’s Zebra Ranch facility, in a studio in a barn at his North Mississippi home, Jim’s base of operations for the past few years, the sound is rustic and true, soulful when it needs to be, and full of emotion and vitality in the blues-country mix that comes from a variety of American sources but which Dickinson very much makes his own.

It sounds warm and soulful, and honest, made by someone who’s produced the best and has nothing more to prove, but decided to make a record with the best band he knows, of songs he likes. And he’s got great taste.

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