Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
he album, "Solstice," coming out this Friday from Luther Dickinson and Sisters of the Strawberry Moon, took "only" three years to be released by New West. The recording sessions were an outgrowth of a few friends getting together and recording music.
Those friends would be folks like Birds of Chicago and Amy Helm (on the album, that also would include Sharde Thomas and Amy Lavere).
In an uplifting night of live music, this was more of a collective with Dickinson happening to have his name out front. In reality, Dickinson may have been the biggest name on the bill. After all, his main gig is with the North Mississippi All Stars.
But when it came to the show, the Birds of Chicago were the most impressive They are the husband-and-wife duo of Allison Russell and JT Nero, who have released several albums on their own.
On this night anyway, they proved to be the standouts. Russell was truly the focal point with her exquisitely beautiful and powerful singing (the rootsy, jaunty "Alright Alright"), often punctuating the songs with her clarinet playing. She also sparked the songs with banjo, although that tended to be less forceful. Nero also took on lead vocals at times with a very slightly sandpapery voice. Despite an album about to drop, the show featured only two songs from the upcoming disc - "Super Lover" and "Kathy" (the Birds of Chicago previously recorded both songs).
Perhaps Russell and Nero stood out the most on the closing song of the night, the intense, image-laden "American Flowers" with Nero taking lead vocals with Russell and Helm helping on baking harmonies. It was the kind of song that Woody Guthrie could have written.
Helm has seen her career on the upswing as the daughter of the late Levon Helm has released her own albums. She was a solid singer, but tended to be more of a force as the intermittent drummer.
Dickinson, of course, knew a thing or two about playing guitar, but he certainly never overwhelmed his compadres or hogged the stage. Yes, he would have solid guitar licks (mandolin as well on "American Flowers") and sang a bit as well, but he was merely part of the gang.
Ultimately, this was all about being a group in the true sense of the word. There was a palpable camaraderie and joy of disparate musical entities gathering together for a night of making music. The long wait was worth it not only for the band members, but also for the crowd.