Luther Dickinson’s latest record, Blues & Ballads (A Folksinger’s Songbook) Vol. I & II, tracks his musical footsteps.
Tonight those footsteps lead him across the pond to the North East of England for an intimate show at the Sage Gateshead. The ambience of the show feels very much as though Luther is performing in your front living room. Having left his brother and North Mississippi Allstars bandmate Cody Dickinson behind, tonight Luther stands on stage alone armed with only a vast array of instruments and amps from his Gibson Les Paul through to a guitar fashioned from a coffee can.
Having moved to Mississippi in 1985, Dickinson befriended a lot of the musical community in the area including the families of many of the blues greats. He reminisces about jamming “Hurry Up Sunrise” on Otha Turner’s front porch, which is, of course, featured on his latest offering as well as included in the set tonight.
Throughout the course of the evening, Dickinson draws upon the works of many of his friends and influences. His take on R.L. Burnside’s “Poor Boy A Long Way From Home” and Mississippi John Hurt’s “Candy Man” highlight Dickinson’s sublime finger picking skills; he plays a lot like Hurt himself. Dickinson jokes of how his thumb continues to put bass players out of business.
Dickinson is renowned for his slide guitar play and tonight is no exception. He delivers exquisite psychedelic slide-fueled blues-rock renditions of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Highway 61” and Bob Dylan’s “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”. The latter of which is segued with Hendrix’s “Hear My Train a Comin'” during which it feels like he is channelling the great man himself. Dickinson’s Les Paul oozes tone in abundance.
From time to time during the course of the show, local folk musicians Niles Krieger and Matthew Ord join Dickinson onstage to add improvised backing guitar and violin on numbers like “Up Over Yonder” or R.L Burnside’s hill country blues number “Miss Maybelle” which is played on his coffee can guitar. The trio works incredibly well together and they seem to be having a lot of fun in the process. Krieger jokes that himself and Ord met at the crossroads, much to the audience’s amusement. The night is brought to a close with a fantastic cover of the Joseph Spence classic, “I Bid You Goodnight”.
It was a real pleasure to see Dickinson in this stripped back intimate setting. He is keeping the music alive of his friends and mentors who have bestowed it upon him and doing them proud in the process.