JAMES LUTHER DICKINSON Free Beer Tomorrow (Artemis) Rating: NNNN; Dixie Fried (Sepia Tone/Rhino) Rating: NNNN
In the 30 years since rock 'n' soul raconteur Jim Dickinson dropped his snarling long-haired blues snake-oil swindle of a debut album, Dixie Fried, on the unsuspecting public, the hipster's hipster has been busy in the studio sparring with Ry Cooder and documenting the dementia of Alex Chilton and Paul Westerberg, when not getting lit with the Rolling Stones. So, between the mythically unhinged recording sessions, schooling his hell-raising sons (North Mississippi All Stars Luther and Cody Dickinson) and carousing with Bob Dylan, it should be apparent why Dickinson's threatened rejoinder to Dixie Fried has been on the back burner since the early 70s.
But suddenly, Free Beer Tomorrow (Artemis) is out, and the combination of mystical blues hollers and philosophical conundrums sounds very much like it was drawn from the same Mississippi mud as Dixie Fried, which Rhino has thoughtfully reissued in all its sloppy glory.
"You're right," confirms Dickinson from his Hernando, Mississippi, hideout. "The new record is a true follow-up to Dixie Fried. It just took me a while.
"We actually recorded Dixie Fried in 70, but by the time it came out two years later I was already lost in Ry Cooder's career. Many of the songs on Free Beer Tomorrow were in the works at the time of Dixie Fried, but I got sidetracked by projects that were so seductive, I had to stay with them to see where they'd lead."
It was his sons who finally brought him back around.
"Somebody once said, "Dickinson's music is so strange, he had to grow his own band to play it,' and that's true! The process of making this record with Luther and Cody was part of their roots music education. I was teaching them the old-school recording techniques, and Free Beer Tomorrow came out of it. And really, so did their records."
Although Dickinson himself has never really risen above the level of cult artist, that hasn't prevented him from using his albums to champion the even more obscure talents he's encountered.
He might start with off-the-beaten-path blues numbers like Joe Callicott's JC's New York City Blues and Furry Lewis's Home Sweet Home, but from there Dickinson digs even deeper to turn up gems like the hilarious Asshole by high school pal Mark Unobsky, Bob Frank's Last Night I Gave Up Smoking and the brilliant Ballad Of Billy And Oscar, which he got off a Dave Hickey demo tape passed on by writer buddy Stanley Booth.
One of the album's highlights is Well Of Love by late, great Muscle Shoals session guitarist Eddie Hinton, who also penned soul classics Breakfast In Bed and Cover Me, among others.
"We were actually trying to record another one of Eddie's songs, Every Natural Thing, but we couldn't get it down, so Luther suggested we go for Well Of Love instead. Even though I felt it was pretty well unrecordable, I thought, "What the heck -- I've got Eddie's handwritten lyrics. Let's try it,' and we got it.
"I remember telling Jerry Wexler to sign Eddie Hinton as an artist and Wexler saying, "Oh, I don't know, baby, his voice is very weird -- it goes up and it goes away.' And I was, like, "Yeah, just like Smokey Robinson, fer chrissake!' He was like John Lennon and John Lee Hooker trapped inside the same body -- both screamin' to get out. I don't think I ever saw so much talent in one human being.
"There were tears rolling down my face watching Eddie Hinton and Teenie Hodges playing guitar next to each other while we were making the Toots In Memphis album. Eddie had nothing left but his fingertips. All I could think was, "There but for the grace of God go I,' because there wasn't anything he did that I didn't do.
"I know that putting one of Eddie's songs on my record doesn't mean millions of people will find out how great he was, but maybe a couple thousand might." email@example.com