North Mississippi Allstars Premiere Cover of R.L. Burnside's 'Miss Maybelle'
You never have to scratch North Mississippi Allstars too hard to find a little R.L. Burnside. But even by those standards "Miss Maybelle" -- premiering exclusively below from the group's upcoming album Prayer For Peace -- stands apart from the pack.
"It's one of his songs I learned back in '97 on the road with him, but I've never actually played it before," NMAS' Luther Dickinson tells Billboard. "It was always in the back of my mind. So the first day of the sessions, setting up at Royal (Studios in Memphis), the first song of the session I just started playing 'Miss Maybelle.' So that's literally the first take of the first song we recorded, the first recording of the first time we've ever played the song. That's the spirit of this whole record, this raw honesty."
Prayer For Peace, due out June 2, finds NMAS returning to what they started on 2013's World Boogie Is Coming. Produced by Dickinson and his brother/drummer Cody, the set is a Hill Country blues celebration, albeit with some appropriate touches of modern technology. "Y'know, our original concept, it was almost an art project, to play Hill Country blues," Dickinson explains. "Then we got caught up in everything and completely lost our way and spun out of orbit, and it took us forever to get back to what we're supposed to do. Seasick Steve literally grabbed me by the shoulders and said, 'Guys, I know where you've been and what you are. You have to keep that music alive and translate it to the younger kids. You have to keep it primitive' -- that was the word. That got us back on track, and (Prayer For Peace) is a further extension of that."
The gutbucket album -- which also includes a version of Burnside's "Long Haired Doney" -- was recorded primarily at Royal Studios in Memphis as well as on the road in Brooklyn, St. Louis, Kansas City, New Orleans, Austin and Hernando, Miss. "It was very casual," Dickinson reports. "Seventy-five percent of the vocals are live. All the guitars and drums are live performances, on the floor. You remember that picture of Zeppelin coming out of the airplane carrying all the tapes? That's the way to do it if you're a touring band, I think." But Prayer For Peace also has a contemporary touch, primarily from Cody Dickinson's tasteful use of Arpeggiators and select software to add a bit of contemporary flavor to the album -- including a bonus remix of the title track, which the elder Dickinson notes was written as a universal expression, not as a reaction to the 2016 presidential campaign and Trump election.
"Half the record we recorded with Duo, just us and a keyboard," Dickinson says. "Then (Cody) started making beats with Logic and Ableton, and now he's full-on Ableton. And I'm all in. It sounds so rad -- bizarre, but really rad. I see so many cats of my generation struggle with this stuff, but you don't want to be like the big band guy who hated swing who hated cool jazz, who hated bebop and hated fusion. You can't be that person that gets stuck in one thing. If you can't evolve and adapt, you can't survive. But you don't have to lose what you are at your core, either."
North Mississippi Allstars are in the midst of a North American tour through June 17, and will be part of the Monterey International Pop Festival 50th Anniversary concert in California. The group beings a European tour on June 22 in Switzerland and will be part of the Keeping The Blues Alive At Sea cruise during Feb. 2018.