Luther Dickinson has always played nice with others, but the North Mississippi Allstars mainstay has never played with so many others as he does on Solstice, the first outing by Luther Dickinson and Sisters of the Strawberry Moon, an all-star collective that includes Amy Helm, Amy LaVere, Sharde Thomas, Birds of Chicago and the Como Mamas.
“I never intended to have my name on it,” Dickinson tells Billboard. “I just wanted to curate and produce it, and New West [Records] agreed to it. But when it came time to realize it, they wanted to put my name on it, and that’s just fine. I just wanted to get the artists together.” The album, out Friday, premieres below a day early.
The idea for Sisters of the Strawberry Moon hatched about three years ago in Chicago, when Dickinson was playing a show with LaVere, Thomas and Birds of Chicago — “a fortuitous meeting” during which the acts “became friends and started scheming and dreaming and make the plan to record everybody at my place in Mississippi,” he says. The eventual session was held over four days during the actual Strawberry Moon of the summer solstice at the Dickinson family’s Zebra Ranch Studio in Independence, Miss., and Dickinson likens it to “a musical potluck dinner — a group of interesting new friends that just brought different things to the table, anything and everything.”
Superlover starts the album with Birds of Chicago taking the lead in magnificant style using electric piano, fiddle and acoustic guitars.
When Guy Clark recorded his 1988 album Old Friends, he enlisted a bevy of musician buds to fulfill the title, from Rosanne Cash and Vince Gill to Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell. Those last two appear on Steve Earle’s new version of the LP’s title track, from his tribute to Clark, Guy.
In the hands of Earle and his band the Dukes, “Old Friends” is a solemn prayer, with Harris harmonizing with Earle on the opening verse. She did likewise on Clark’s original recording of the song, written by Clark and his wife Susanna Clark with Richard Dobson. Crowell, Jerry Jeff Walker, Terry Allen and Jo Harvey Allen also join in here, offering various spoken-word lines that underscore the timeless camaraderie of the songwriters.
This song is a romance set in the multi-dimensional realm of theoretical physics, string theory, quantum mechanics, and descriptive statistics. At its most distilled, it’s just simply about how there’s someone out there for everyone, no matter how distant an outlier they may be, and no matter how esoteric their passions and obsessions.
It weaves together several other themes, as well, though. It touches on the pushback that smart women can face when expressing their smarts in traditionally male-dominated arenas. It draws parallels between quantum entanglement and human entanglement. And it asserts that even the most guarded and unlikely heart has some perfectly twisted key somewhere that will open up it right up.
And it’s about how sexy a smart mind can be when it’s set totally and wildly free.