Monday, June 5, 2017

Music Review: Pray For Peace by North Mississippi Allstars



In 2010, the second to last time the Black Crowes went on hiatus (before they ultimately "broke up" and time will tell whether that's true), my brother and I bought tickets to see them at the historic Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa. For those who are hip to the Crowes, I was a Marc Ford enthusiast. The guy has incredible tone and touch. Those were some big shoes to fill and no one was worthy of the baton in my opinion. When Luther Dickinson took the stage I scoffed. What a joke! Then he played guitar…. My clenched jaw was now on the floor and my cynical attitude was converted into belief. I'm a loyal person by nature. I don't betray my loyalty when someone earns it. Luther Dickinson earned my fucking loyalty.

For the past seven years, I've been a Luther Dickinson enthusiast. I've tried to keep up with him when he's played solo, with Phil Lesh & Friends, Jim Lauderdale, Anders Osborne, Todd Snider, and most importantly (the topic of this discussion) the North Mississippi All Stars. I've listened to just about every album they've put out. Some grabbed me right away and others I still can't get into honestly but, simply put, they're a great fucking band. Since 2012 they've managed to put out only strong albums but Pray For Peace has got to be the best album they've put out this decade! The opening track also happens to be the title track. The message is as heavy as the music. One of my favorite lines, "The innocence of love seen in our children's face makes me pray ignorance and hate disintegrate into space," echoes how I feel about current affairs. Enough said.

The first song segues into the second song, "Need to Be Free." Please listen to this album track by track. It flows together so well. The song is so heavy and hearkens back to early Gov't Mule but it's all NMA and I'm personally jealous of what this band accomplishes both lyrically and musically over the duration of this tracks' four minutes and twenty-eight seconds. It's incredible! "Stealin" is another stand out track of musical perfection. It's got some nice boogie piano and acoustic slide to it. The band gets locked into a real nice groove on this one and I personally enjoy Cody Dickinson's choice of fan sticks and drumming on this one. Cody proves over the course of this record what a versatile drummer he really is.

“Deep Ellum” crosses over into Grateful Dead territory. Deadheads will notice right away the band keeps the lyrics faithful to Jerry's interpretation of this classic. Make no mistake, though, there's no Jerry mimicry here. Musically, it's not faithful to any Dead interpretation at all. Mr. Dickinson once again "flexes his muscle," so to speak, on the guitar and it proves to be a very bitchin' take on a classic jam band standard proving once again that the North Mississippi All Stars can do anything they damn well, please. “Bird Without a Feather” is another heavy number with some more tasteful guitar solo.

It's hard to emphasize all the high points on this record because there isn't a bad song on it. Each one is a stand out track. For a while, it was hard for me to find an album I could just sit and listen to from start to finish but I've found what I was looking for in both this album and John Moreland's Big Bad Luv which I previously reviewed. Don't just listen to this album, try and catch NMA live when the opportunity presents itself because they're a force to be reckoned with. For people like me who didn't get to be around when Hendrix and Cream put power trios on the map, NMA is the best thing modern blues has to offer. Does that sound like a tall tale? See for yourself. In the meantime, pray for peace!

Bio Matthew Westmoreland (or Matty, as his friends call him) was born in South Carolina, grew up in Georgia, and rambled everywhere in between. Currently located in Mendocino, California with his wife and two sons, he spends his days writing songs and his evenings listening to & reviewing albums for Story & Grit before gigs. Look for his debut album in late 2017 and keep up with him in the meantime at facebook.com/westmorelandsounds
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