Music is seasonal- be it the recent debates over who can beat the X Factor winner to the Christmas number one slot; the spring launch of product by the major labels; the compilations for Father’s Day containing songs he already has three times; the year has a natural rhythm enhanced by the innovations of marketing and the changing tastes of the music listening public.
Over the last decade, summer has been dominated by club anthems from the late night hotspots of Ibiza and Tenerife and Miami South Beach. Wouldn’t it be nice if summer could be, well, a little more rockin’? Step forward then, Cody and Luther Dickinson (ex Black Crowes) and their band, North Mississippi All Stars with their sun kissed, country infused rockin’ blues and their sizzling album “Keys to the Kingdom”.
Recorded last spring, it’s a life affirming record- passionate, direct and optimistic. Given that it was recorded not long after the Dickinson brothers’ father (the late Jim Dickinson, himself a musician of some renown) had passed away, it’s optimism is even more remarkable. It’s a record peppered with some illustrious guest appearances- Mavis Staples, Ry Cooder, Spooner Oldham, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Gordie Johnson and Motown Funk Brother Jack Ashford – all of whom make notable contributions and turn this into a collaboration that’s a sort of a who’s who in contemporary blues.
Ranging from upbeat bluesy pop in opening track ‘This A’Way’ through to the more melancholic reflections of ‘Hear the Hills’, ‘How I Wish My Train Would Come’ this is not a record that TINAS readers would probably jump into immediately- but, honestly, you could do a lot worse, especially if you like your Black Crowes at their most mellow or Weezer at their most introspective. ‘Ol Cannonball’ has a homespun feel that would not be out of place on a Tom Waits record (but only when in a good mood) or in a live setting of a dingy, dark New Orleans bar room. Likewise the atmospheric darkness of ‘New Orleans Walkin’ Dead’ demonstrates not just a sense of heritage but a creativity to infuse stuff you think you know with some freshness and invention.
“Keys to the Kingdom” is a record that creeps up on you, sits next to you and ingratiates itself listen after listen. You’ve probably heard that a European tour with the veritable taste master that is Robert Plant (yes, THAT Robert Plant) is now underway and it will doubtless get the band an even greater audience. Do yourself a favour- get in now, say you were there when it all started and have that smug look of knowing on your face when they make it: because they will. Even better, get the barbecue on, turn up the volume, crack open the cider and wallow. Tasty stuff.