For anyone who’s troubled, hell, for any person with a conscience, this record’s for you.
The mournful blues of the North Mississippi doesn’t evoke the wailers of the Civil Rights era — it actually invokes those generations, as it cries in shame over how the last few years have undone so much of the progress the peaceful protests made two generations ago.
“Change has come and gone…wish we could be colorblind,” sings lead vocalist Luther Dickinson in the title song and album opener, the most powerful political tune these ears have heard in years. It’s a slow build to the last verse:
If Martin Luther King sat on the mountain today, my friends
It’d be so good to have Brother Martin pray again
But what would Martin Luther King, what would he dare to think?
Would the state of the world today, cause brother Martin to drink?
As incendiary as the sentiment, the effect is a salve for the constant spew of hate, uncertainty, nuclear war and other Washington initiatives presently tearing apart the fabric of American society. It’s salve for anyone who is gladdened by the fact that The Daily Stormer was driven to the dark web.
And it’s just plain good tuneage by the way, a salve for the machine-made yippity-woo on the FM airwaves today passing for new music. Blues, yes, but modernized for anyone who digs deep-blues groups along the lines of the Black Keys, Black Diamond Heavies or Left Lane Cruiser, with songs like “Run Red Rooster,” featuring hard-ripping electric slide, pulverizing bass drum and little else to accompany Dickinson’s aggressive drawl.
White Stripes fans will dig this, too, as long as they don’t mind a little dose of country-folk acoustic rhythm and more sophisticated harmonies mixed in from time to time. North Mississippi Allstars also attract admiration from the alt-country crowd (think the Uncle Tupelo-Wilco-Son Volt axis). Diehard blues purists will appreciate the band’s rendition of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “You Got To Move,” following a long line of bands to cover the tune, including the Rolling Stones. It’s quite the modern update on the old standard, with Luther Dickinson doing the call and amazing female vocalist Danielle Nicole on the response.
Speaking of the Stones, “Stealin’” and its close harmonies offset with country-acoustic guitar twang, sounds as if it’d fit well on Exile on Main Street. For this old blues fan, the Allstars’ ability to comfortably and competently change up styles is what makes this record fresher than a lot of electric blues acts nowadays, whose songs become forgettable when they sound too similar.
John Hiatt fans will also recognize the Allstars, as they often tour as his backing band. Some great guests contribute to the music on Prayer for Peace, including Kenny Brown, Oteil Burbridge (Dead & Co., Allman Brothers Band), Graeme Lesh (son of the Dead’s Phil), and Jack White collaborator Dominic Davis.
The blues still can be muscular, primitive, and at times call for social change. This music reminds us that we the listeners are normal, and that our country’s current throwback to 1930s racial politics is not. That’s not to say Prayer for Peace is a collection of antifa anthems or a call to action for lefties. It’s just a reminder of where we’ve been and where we should be going despite the enabling of hate from D.C.’s general direction. You’re not alone. When woke dudes from Mississippi speak, we listen — and we’re glad to hear it.