The Wandering and Luther Dickinson, Iota, Arlington, VA – 5/12
Musicians always talk about how the spirituality of music can convey feelings impossible to express in words. Luther Dickinson’s newly formed band, the Wandering, has well achieved that goal. There are plenty of players who hail from the deep south, of course, but Dickinson and the Wandering seem to have internalized the region’s deep folky blues sound as few other contemporary players have done.
At a small club just outside of Washington, D.C., a reasonably sized crowd gathered around the stage to hear Dickinson, the lead guitarist for the Black Crowes and the North Mississippi Allstars, open the show. “Hi, I’m Luther,” was Dickinson’s simple greeting to the crowd as he took a seat onstage and began to play a handful of tunes most from “Hambone’s Meditations,” one of his three just-released albums.
His stirring rendition of “Ain’t No Grave,” produced an almost audible sigh that resonated through the audience, particularly as he sang the lines “If I had my way he’d be here today to sit down at the piano and play.” The words most certainly referenced Dickinson’s thoughts of his father, James Luther Dickinson, who died in 2009 at age 67.
After a brief intermission, it was interesting to watch the audience silently acknowledge the members of the Wandering – guitarist Shannon McNally, bassist Amy LaVere, banjoist Valerie June and drummer and fife player Sharde Thomas, who leads the Rising Star Fife and Drum band – as they strode through the audience and up the few steps to the stage.
Dressed in matching short black dinner dresses and impossibly high heels, they radiated grace and elegance, surely a prelude to their music.
Although Dickinson accompanies the women mainly on guitar, he basically stays in the background letting them weave their musical magic. Listeners can be forgiven if they don’t realized that the four women only shared their Mississippi heritage, before Dickinson approached each of them to form the Wandering. The band is new, but the women clearly have similar musical passions.
Even the quartet’s sporadic on-stage banter made one feel that the women, who were only playing their third live show together on that evening, were long-lost soul mates.
It was easy to dazzled by the Wanderings’ musicianship and vocals on songs including “Sittin’ on Top of the World,” the Byrds’ “Mr. Spaceman,” Kris Kristofferson’s “Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do),” and “Glory Glory,” but the mood was light and comfortable.
When the group began to play “You Are My Sunshine,” the club rocked with the audience sing-along that followed. Another crowd favorite was the standard “Outlaw” during which McNally, who took the main share of lead vocals throughout the evening, yodeled.
As The Wandering moved through a 90+minute set comprised of songs from their just-released album Go On Now, You Can’t Stay Here, the air crackled with electricity and an inclusive camaraderie that extended to the audience.