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Published: 2012/07/11
by Brian Robbins

James Luther Dickinson And North Mississippi Allstars
I'm Just Dead I'm Not Gone

Memphis International Records

The late Jim Dickinson was a lot of things. He was a musician and a producer whose talents were sought out by everyone from the Stones to The Replacements; from Aretha Franklin to Bob Dylan. He recorded at the legendary Sun Records; did sessions with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins; manned the board for Alex Chilton and Big Star.

But most importantly, Jim Dickinson was a husband and a father. And that’s the heart and soul of I’m Just Dead I’m Not Gone : a father and his sons laying it down before a live audience, playing the music that runs through their veins just as naturally as the blood they share.

Jim introduces the band after a savage trip through Buffy Saint Marie’s “Codine”: his “big son” Luther Dickinson on guitar; his “baby son” Cody Dickinson on drums; and his “spiritual son”, bassist Chris Chew – yes, the North Mississippi Allstars, joined on this evening by daddy Jim’s Memphis buddy Jimmy Davis on guitar and vocals. There are no other spoken displays of fatherly pride – nor does there need to be; just listen to the music.

“Dad used to always say, ‘Play every note like it’s your last, because one of them will be,’” says Luther in the liner notes to I’m Just Dead I’m Not Gone. They were definitely following his advice on the night of June 2, 2006 when this show was recorded.

As bandleader, Jim Dickinson combines the conviction of a tent show preacher with a little bit of the cool weirdness of Col. Bruce Hampton – except where the Col. encourages his troops to go out there on a regular basis, Jim Dickinson was all about total dedication to the groove.

Right out of the hole (after a moment of “prayer” by the Reverend Jim), “Money Talks” comes slamming forth, all grease and grit. Jim Dickinson sings with a bluesman’s growl and bite – digging in deep enough to get a rumble going in his throat; maybe riding it out over a few syllables at a time. A couple of verses in, he barks: “Play it, Luther!” – and what can a good son do but play it , while Cody and Mr. Chew drive that beat right down through the floor.

I’m Just Dead I’m Not Gone offers up a bit of headneck stomp (“Red Neck, Blue Collar”); some classic piano-driven boogie filth (listen to the elder Dickinson pound them ivories on “Rooster Blues”); and some swampy blues that morphs into a total psychedelic rumble tumble on the album-closing “Down In Mississippi”. Looking for some soul? “Never Make Your Move Too Soon” does the deed in a way-cool manner. And “Kassie Jones” might be yet another take on the trainman’s legend, but that loosey-goosey groove is about something other than railroads, baby.

Deepest waters of all are on the aforementioned “Codine”: Jim leads his band right down into hell itself. His vocals on the opening verses nail the pain of addiction; he takes the emotion even further with a piano break about 2 minutes in that’s both grim and beautiful. Another verse and then he sets the boys loose: they go headfirst into a stretch of dark and terrifying junkie jazz before pulling it back. Jim bellows the thing home; the song crashes to a finish; the crowd roars. “Thank you, fans of drug addiction,” Jim says drily – just as if one might hear drama like that every day.

The music on I’m Just Dead I’m Not Gone itself is wonderful; the fact that it was created by the Dickinsons and their friends makes it all the better. Luther says that his father always claimed that “his music was so strange, he had to grow a band.”

He most surely did do just that.

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