Prayers are usually a quiet, internal note of hope and good vibes from one’s heart to the universe and beyond. But North Mississippi Allstars’ newest album, “Prayer For Peace,” is a bombastic cry of fierce blues that is about as loud a shout to the heavens as the amps allow, with all the hope and good vibes you would want from blues brothers Cody and Luther Dickinson.
Sons of the late producer Jim Dickinson, guitarist Luther and drummer Cody have music flowing through their veins and playing music is more of a family tradition at this point than a job or passion. They are one of the great modern purveyors of blues music, specifically the Delta and Hill Country blues of Mississippi, and can call great Delta bluesmen like R.L Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and Otha Turner old family friends.
When Luther and Cody play, they are connected to each other by blood, spirit and music and they generate some of the most earnest and vivacious music out there today. If you’ve seen them live, you’ll know Luther is usually having a good time throwing himself into his guitar and moving to the music as much as people in the crowd, while Cody is a grinning fool who shines in those moments when he gets the crowd hyped. You can feel their music is coming from the heart and soul.
“Prayer For Peace” sees the brothers wearing their hearts on their sleeves in a big way. The album is as immediate and present as anything they’ve done over seven studio albums, expanding on the deep-fried, backwoods boogie vibe they started with “World Boogie Is Coming” and serving it hot and fresh to your face. You can probably credit that to the band recording its sessions in St. Louis, Kansas City, New Orleans, Brooklyn and Austin at different studios while it was on tour throughout 2016, a “field recording” style that was new for the group. Cody and Luther went in and recorded songs the morning after shows to channel the previous night’s energy and connections into the takes. It’s powerful stuff and allows the band to be as comfortable and honest as possible.
You can sense the impromptu nature of these recordings on the title track, which is a sprightly blues stomp whose hippy message of peace is humbly sung in the simple refrain “pray for peace.” Luther casually trades guitar licks and vocals with fife player Shardé Thomas and the whole song feels like it was conceived and recorded over lunch. The low-key prayer for universal humanity is then concentrated into a white-hot blues sermon for Mississippi on the fiery “Need To Be Free,” Luther calling out, “Mississippi, we all need to be free” over hellfire fuzz. Luther’s solos are savage fits of release that strike like lightning through his brother’s fire-and-brimstone drumming. NMA might be looking for peace but they aren’t looking to be quiet about it.
The connection between the two brothers is palpable across all of “Prayer For Peace” and their depth of understanding for one another’s music is the real backbone of the album. “Bird Without Feather” is is raw explosion of electric blues where Cody’s cascading fills and mangled rhythm are gnarly responses to Luther’s crashing scales. Together they ride the frenetic pocket of scorcher “Run Red Rooster,” and “Deep Ellum Blues” features some perfectly greasy singing from Cody as Luther steps aside to let his brother carry the vocals, certainly pleased to just rock out.
“Prayer For Peace” is a knockout album and could reveal itself to be NMA’s best album over time. Cody and Luther are as fired up as they’ve ever been and it’s encouraging to get righteous albums like this so far into the band’s career. They are getting better and better at what they do as they get older, and if you might pray for anything else besides peace, pray that North Mississippi Allstars keep churning them out like this.
- North Mississippi Allstars
“Prayer for Peace”
- Release: June 2, 2017
Nearby shows: Friday, June 16 at The Independent in San Francisco. Saturday, June 17 at the Monterey Pop Festival and at The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco