The hills are alive with the sound of music -- the North Mississippi hill country, that is. Guitarist Daniel "Slick" Ballinger, a North Carolina transplant to Como, Mississippi, took second place in the Blues Foundation's International Blues Challenge last month; Rev. Slick, as he was billed, was backed by Pontotoc harp player Terry Bean and drummer Kinney Kimbrough from Holly Springs.
Fifteen vintage Jessie Mae Hemphill tracks, cut in Como by musicologist and University of Memphis professor David Evans, were just dusted off and released as Get Right Blues by the local Inside Sounds label, while Corey Harris' latest Rounder Records release, Mississippi to Mali, features two collaborations with Sharde Thomas & the Rising Star Fife & Drum Band, recorded in nearby Senatobia.
Down in Oxford, Dick Waterman, a longtime blues promoter and photographer, has launched an online gallery at eBay, selling portraits of musicians from the hill country and beyond. The photographs can also be seen in Between Midnight and Day: The Last Unpublished Blues Archive, recently published by Thunder's Mouth Press.
Rounding out the mix are recently released archival recordings from producer Jim Dickinson's vaults, which are located at his Zebra Ranch studio in Coldwater at the northwest edge of the hill country. Jim Dickinson Field Recordings, subtitled Delta Experimental Project Volume Three, was released on the Birdman label in late 2003.
"It's just my own personal favorite field recordings," Dickinson explains of the dozen tracks that span four decades, 1960s to the present. "I don't think anyone else would've recorded this stuff."
Sleepy John Estes was cut at Dickinson's former home in Collierville, while the Mose Vinson outtakes came from a session he produced at Sam Phillips' Recording Service for the Center for Southern Folklore. Furry Lewis' version of "Turkey in the Straw" was recorded at The Orpheum theater, while Johnny Woods' "So Many Cold Mornings" was captured at Ardent Studios. Othar Turner and the Rising Star Fife & Drum Band were recorded on their home turf in Senatobia. The late Turner, a master of the cane fife, opens the disc, his sharp notes quickly overpowering the sounds of cicadas and frogs that initially dominate the field-recording vibe.
"I tried to keep it as natural as possible," Dickinson says. "I was friends with all of these men. I like to think that they all trusted me. In many cases, we were playing together, so I felt a part of it as well." He recruited other friends as sidemen: Ry Cooder, Lee Baker, Michael "Busta Cherry" Jones, and Luther Dickinson, his elder son.
The project is essentially the fourth volume in a series of recordings, begun with Beale Street Saturday Night, recorded and released under the auspices of the Memphis Development Foundation in the '70s and continued with Delta Experimental Projects Volume One: The Blues and Volume Two: Spring Poems. Both were released on French label New Rose Records in the late '80s.
Dickinson is even more proud of The North Mississippi Allstars' Tate County Hill Country Blues, another archival project released last month. He produced the album in '98 for his sons Luther and Cody Dickinson, who play guitar and drums with the group. But the project was shelved after they signed a deal with ToneCool Records. "We gave this record to Dad and started working on 'Shake Hands With Shorty'," Luther explains, "but it was always in our contract that we could self-release it.
"When we started the band in '96, we tried to sound as traditional as possible," Luther continues. "Once we got a regular gig on Beale Street playing three hours straight a night, we started stretching out. Chris [Chew, bassist] was bringing in a gospel feel, while Cody and I were playing more rock and psychedelia. On Tate County, the concept was pure. By the time we recorded Shorty, the Allstars' sound was more evolved."
"In many ways, Tate County is the best thing they've done," Jim Dickinson adds. "Their cover of R.L. Burnside's 'Snakedrive' is amazing. That Bryan Gregory solo isn't typical blues," he says, comparing his son's slide work to The Cramps' guitarist.
"Tate County was recorded while they were still learning the music," Jim Dickinson continues, pointing out Cody's biting vocals on T-Model Ford's "Let Me In" and the mellow jam sound on Fred McDowell's "Crazy 'Bout You." "People are responding to this album on the Allstars' Web site, saying, 'Oh, that's where this song came from.' It's a wonderful missing piece of the puzzle." --AL
Music Notes: Memphis cultural mainstay The Center for Southern Folklore gets a boost this week with the opening of its new Folklore Store, located at 123 S. Main at the Peabody Place Trolley Stop. The Folklore Store will be a showcase for the folk artists and craftspeople the center already supports through its other programming. It will also sell gourmet coffee, beer, and sandwiches. The Folklore Store's opening celebration will be a three-day affair, Friday, February 13th, through Sunday, February 15th. Local musicians scheduled to perform at the store over the weekend include: The Daddy Mack Blues Band, pianist "Smoochie" Smith, Billy Gibson & David Bowen, The Fieldstones, and The Vance Ensemble The locally produced, internationally syndicated radio program Beale Street Caravan turns its attention to area music this month. The program will broadcast a set from onetime Hi Records soul man Otis Clay at the King Biscuit Blues Festival the week of February 18th and look at the new breed of hill-country blues from Jimbo Mathus & His Knockdown Society and the North Mississippi Allstars the week of February 25th. The latter program will also include a segment from local author Robert Gordon on Hi Records. Beale Street Caravan can be heard locally at noon Tuesdays on WEVL-FM 89.9, 6 p.m. Wednesdays on WUMR-FM 91.7, and 6 p.m. Saturdays on WKNA-FM 88.9 and WKNQ-FM 90.7 Congratulations to local songwriter Nancy Apple, whose song "The Kind To Break a Heart" was named a runner-up in the AAA/Roots/Americana category of the 2003 International Songwriting Competition Local concert series Tha Movement has a new disc out, Certified Vintage Mix. Copies can be purchased at the Cheesecake Corner in the South Main Arts District. The next Movement showcase is scheduled for Saturday, February 21st, at Young Avenue Deli Onetime local phenom Garrison Starr returns to the racks next week with the February 17th release of her latest album, Airstreams & Satellites, on Vanguard Records Reigning Premier Player Award "newcomer" winners Ingram Hill take a big step with the February 24th national release of June's Picture Show, on Hollywood Records Oh, and congrats as well to Millington's finest, Justin Timberlake, for his ubiquitous presence (and was that really his mother!?) and two wins at Sunday's Grammy Awards. And was it just me, or was Dave Matthews and Sting's joining up for that stiff take on "I Saw Her Standing There" a new low for popular music? Just when I thought last year's James Taylor/John Mayer nightmare couldn't be topped -- CH