By James Calemine
Three days after Memphis luminary Jim Dickinson died, his oldest son Luther opened the doors to the family-owned Zebra Ranch and recorded these gospel songs. The Sons of Mudboy stands as homage to Jim Dickinson’s old band, Mudboy & the Neutrons. Musicians on this album include Sid Selvidge (guitar/vocals), Jimmy Crosthwait (washboard/vocals), Jimbo Mathus (guitar/mandolin/banjo), Steve Selvidge (guitar/vocal), Paul Taylor (bass) and Shannon McNally (vocals).
Only two microphones were used during these sessions. Ardent Studio’s John Fry mastered the analog tracks from these old-school recordings. With only a few exceptions, each song was recorded in one take. The inspiration for the title of this CD originated from the legendary Sam Phillips who once wrote this about Jim Dickinson:
“Shade of inspiration is the ever present glint in Jim D’s eye
Hearing strange noises that others let pass by.
Music that make you shout walk the backs of gospel benches,
Makes you moan yes, even cry
It could be—it may be
It is Jim D’s soul of sound
Bouncing off the sky…”
Luther wrote the opening track, a dobro driven “Let It Roll”, on the first day of the sessions. “Angel Band” resembles an old Library of Congress recording. “Where The Soul of Man Never Dies” evokes Delaney Bramlett’s Motel Shot album vibe, and this rendition carries another soulful tune for the great Jim Dickinson. Luther learned “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms” from Memphis’ Second Avenue Baptist Church when he was young.
“His Eye Is On the Sparrow”, a beautiful hymnal, Luther’s mother sang to his father during his final days at the hospital. “You Got To Walk That Lonesome Highway” resonates like some hymn on Sunday morning; this song takes you to church. It’s a great song for anyone.
The Dickinson Family have always loved Mississippi Fred McDowell, and the song “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning”, stands as one of three McDowell songs on this collection. Luther’s guitar work on “Trimmed and Burning” proves incandescent. “Softly & Tenderly” counts as another song Luther learned from The Second Avenue Baptist Church. This song ranks a gospel blues at its finest.
“Up Over Yonder”, a chipper tune, that allows a lighthearted, soulful message to resonate long after the song ends. Luther’s guitar mastery of Fred McDowell’s work once again becomes evident on the swampy “Back Back Train”. The final track on Onward And Upward, an old Otha Turner favorite, “Glory Glory”, serves as testimony of the eternal spirit of Mr. Jim Dickinson.