James Luther Dickinson
Jungle Jim & the Voodoo Tiger
Memphis International Records DOT-015
In the storied history of Memphis music, James Luther Dickinson, more commonly known as Jim Dickinson, is a demigod who has both seen and done it all. A rich career that dates back some 40 years, the pianist/singer/producer/band leader/session player has worked with folks ranging from Aretha Franklin to the Rolling Stones (that’s Dickinson playing piano on “Wild Horses”), Duane Allman to the Replacements, and on the Memphis front Big Star to local cult band Mud Boy & the Neutrons. Simply put, there’s few styles of music Dickinson hasn’t had his fingers in one way or another. Oh yeah, he also happens to be the father of two-thirds of the very hot North Mississippi All-Stars. On the solo side of things, studios releases have been few and far between for Dickinson, a sum total of only three studio albums of his own in the last 34 years. (One could say Dickinson is on a role of sorts what with his last solo outing, Free Beer Tomorrow, having been released in 2002.) Released under his alter ego, James Luther Dickinson, the new recording Jungle Jim & the Voodoo Tiger finds the omnipresent raconteur letting it all hang out in a variety of ways, mostly all high on the grit and soul factor. Equate the bulk of the song pickings comprising Jungle Jim & the Voodoo Tiger to a smorgasbord of tangy vittles that have been kickin’ around in Dickinson’s craw, or as he puts it “the jukebox of my mind”, for who knows how long. Dickinson is all over the map with his song gathering reaching as far back as reworkings of such boogie ‘n’ blues classics as “Hadacol Boogie” and “Rooster Blues”, sampling the honky tonk waters ala Terry Fell’s 18-wheelin’ nugget “Truck Drivin’ Man” on which he tosses in a little heard third verse, giving the deep soul treatment to Chuck Prophet’s ” Down the Road Somewhere ” and offsetting it with the risqué’ soulfulness of “Love Bone”, and even getting worldly, Brazil-style, with the album closer “Samba de Orfeo” taken from the film Black Orpheus. On the support side of the Jungle Jim & the Voodoo Tiger ledger, it’s payback time of sorts what with sons Cody and Luther (of the aforementioned North Mississippi All Stars fame) on board, not to mention Alvin Youngblood Hart whose Grammy-nominated album Down In the Alley was co-produced by Dickinson. In all, the 11 tracks comprising Jungle Jim & the Voodoo Tiger demonstrate Dickinson’s fearless approach to record making, all coming from someone who’s never been afraid to push the envelope. It also makes for some savory party tunage. (Memphis International Records, 2240 Union Avenue #39, Memphis, TN 38104, or www.memphisinternational.com)
Dirty Laundry: The Soul of Black Country
Trikont Records US-0333
Cheatin’ Soul & the Southern Dream of Freedom
Trikont Records US-0337
Founded in Munich in the late 1960s, Trikont began as a book publishing company. By the early 1970s, Trikont was also producing records adopting an anything-goes philosophy releasing popular music from around the globe. Music from here in America be it Appalachia, polka music from the heart of Texas, Johnny Cash, or the many flavored sounds of Louisiana have all seen release with the Trikont imprint. Here in 2006 the label is still going strong. Two recent and beautifully packaged compilations, each offering up a serious dose of Southern soul music , just may just be the two best collections ever released from the label.
They are songs like “Your Cheatin’ Heart”, “Stand By Your Man”, “Almost Persuaded”, “Don’t Take Her She’s All I Got”, “Bouquet of Roses” and “Sixteen Tons”, all of them scoring big on the country charts in their day. The twist of it all is that the singers delivering these classics in country style are heavy hitter soul and R&B types like Lela Washington, Bobby Powell, James Brown, Candi Staton, Etta James, Solomon Burke, and James & Bobby Purify. Save for a relatively few artists, popular country music has always been considered pretty much a white man’s domain. Take Charley Pride out of the picture and it’s about 99.9% lily-white. While little has changed over the years from the commercial perspective, plenty of black artists have delved into country and western and while maybe not hitting the charts, have left their mark on a onesy-twosy basis. Devoid of Pride, the compilation Dirty Laundry: The Soul of Black Country offers up a couple of dozen highly satisfying crossover slices featuring soul and R&B greats kicking a bit of butt on the country side of the tracks. I’m sure plenty of you out there remember the Pointer Sisters, but how many of you know that they were the first black females invited to play the Grand Ole Opry in 1974 thanks to the hit country single “Fairy Tale” which won the ladies a Grammy the following year. Before they got their pop career in gear, the Pointer Sisters tried their hand at many different styles of music, among them C&W. Laced with pedal steel and all, “Fairy Tale” proved them a winner in country circles. The same goes for Curtis Mayfield of “Superfly” fame. He too tried his hand at country and to satisfying results with the early 1980s protest single of the ecological variety called “Dirty Laundry” from which this compilation takes its name. And how about the “Godfather of Soul” himself, James Brown? Over the course of his career Brown recorded easily an album’s worth of country songs. Like the Pointer Sisters, he also appeared on the Grand Ole Opry, at the invitation of Porter Wagoner no less. His entry on this compilation? Why a pretty believable rendition of Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart”. While artists like these may be considered anomalies when it comes to country music, others like Arthur Alexander, Staton, Clarence Gatemouth Brown, Bobby Womack, Johnny Adams, the Purify’s and Burke all consistently brought a little bit of country into their soul. (The closest to a genuine C&W artist that you’ll encounter on Dirty Laundry is Bay Area singer Stoney Edwards who other than Pride was arguably the next most successful black country artist.) All of these singers, and then some, are part of this superb collection. Dirty laundry never felt so right.
Cheatin’ Soul & the Southern Dream of Freedom is the other entry from the Trikont folks and it is equally as strong. At 23 tracks in length, the slant of this collection is cheatin’ songs from the Southern soul tradition. The compilers of this collection gather some beauties taking the listener from Janet & the Jays’ “Without a Reason” and the great O.V. Wright’s “A Nickel and a Nail” through such two-timing nuggets “If She’s Your Wife Who Am I” from Doris Duke, “Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home” from Ann Peebles, and Bobby Blue Bland with the hard hitting “I Wouldn‘t Treat a Dog (the Way You Treated Me)”. Like Dirty Laundry, Cheatin’ Soul & the Southern Dream of Freedom is highly recommended. (Check out www.trikont.com for information on their many releases.)
(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3. He lives in Peace Dale and can be reached at [email protected])<...