The North Mississippi All-Stars frontman brings his new solo project to Asheville
Purchase tickets for this show here:
The Wandering gathers five traditionally-minded artists from Memphis and North Mississippi and features the string work of Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars, Black Crowes) and a quartet of distinctive female voices—Shannon McNally, Amy LaVere, Valerie June, and Sharde Thomas, erstwhile leader of the Rising Star Fife and Drum band. The women are all accomplished musicians, and it was actually for this reason that Luther initially gathered them together. “The idea for the band came together one day when I saw a picture of Valerie playing the banjo, which led me to think about Amy playing upright bass, which led me to think about Sharde playing drums and Shannon playing guitar,” says Luther. “So I called them up and arranged a session. We had no idea what to expect and I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but it couldn’t have been lovelier.” The record was cut at the Dickinson family’s Zebra Ranch studio in Coldwater, Mississippi in just three days, and Luther recalls that the music fell readily into place. “Everyone got along well and as soon as we started playing we all felt that it was special. Amy and Sharde have the coolest pocket together and Valerie’s banjo parts are the magic ingredient. Shannon played rhythm guitar on everything, and I played guitars, mandolin and banjolin. “I love having Sharde’s Mississippi cane fife paired with banjo, mandolin, and upright bass. It sonically represents the culture of the modern Southern folk experience.” That experience is also represented in the group’s repertoire, which includes traditional standards and classic Americana from Southern-born artists including Robert Johnson, Kris Kristofferson, Little Willie John, Ray Charles, and Sid Selvidge.
Luther Dickinson is best known as the lead guitarist and vocalist of the North Mississippi Allstars (NMA), which he formed in 1996 together with his younger brother Cody. As the son of legendary producer, session pianist, and recording artist Jim Dickinson, Luther grew up listening to and playing a wide array of Southern music, something that’s reflected in the broad range of projects that he’s taken on. In addition to his work with the NMA, Luther’s involvement with the unique music of the north Mississippi Hill Country includes producing two albums by Sharde’s grandfather, the late fife legend Otha Turner, and
touring with R.L. Burnside. His recent projects include the South Memphis String Band, which also features Jimbo Mathus and Alvin Youngblood Hart, and the Grammy-nominated album Onward and Upward, recorded just days after his father’s passing in 2009.
Shannon McNally was a member of “Sons of Mudboy” band that recorded Onward and Upward, and has been an integral part of the North Mississippi music scene since she relocated to Holly Springs in the wake of Katrina. A native of Long Island, Shannon moved to New Orleans not long after releasing her first album, Jukebox Sparrows, on Capitol Records in the early 2000s. She’s since released multiple albums and has collaborated as a vocalist and songwriter with artists including Dr. John, Charlie Sexton, John Hiatt, Bobby Charles, Dave Alvin, and Son Volt. She worked with Jim Dickinson on her own material, appeared on his album Killers From Space, and recorded her album Windswept Moon at Zebra Ranch. Her most recent album is Western Ballad. Her husband, Wallace Lester, plays drums on three tracks here—Sentimental Blues, In the Pines, and Lovin’ Him was the Easiest Thing
A native of Louisiana, Amy LaVere began fronting an aggressive art-rock/ experimental band at 14 in and around Detroit and in the mid-‘90s a move to Nashville inspired her to start playing traditional country and rockabilly slap-style upright bass. She moved to Memphis in 1999, and since 2005 has released three solo albums for Memphis’ Archer Records. Anchors and Anvils, her second album, was produced by Jim Dickinson, whom she credits as “the one who really got me to believe in my own voice.” Amy’s music, albums, performances, and songwriting continue to reflect a broad musical sensibility. Her latest CD, Stranger Me, for instance, includes a cover of a Captain Beefheart song, offbeat instrumentation, and ethereal sounds. As an actress Amy has appeared in films including Black Snake Moan and Walk the Line, in which she played rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson, and, in between a full touring schedule for 2012, will film her second leading role this year in film maker Brian Pera’s Only Child.
Sharde Thomas is the youngest member of the group here, but arguably the one most steeped in traditional music. Her grandfather, Otha Turner, was a legendary figure in north Mississippi’s unique African American fife and drum tradition, whose roots stretch back to before the blues. At Otha’s
encouragement Sharde made her first public performance on the fife at age seven at the annual fife and drum picnic and goat roast he hosted in Gravel Springs. Following her grandfather’s death in 2003 Sharde—then just 13— inherited the leadership of the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band. She’s taken the group as far as London and Notodden, Norway, and recently recorded her debut solo CD, What Do I Do?, which includes fife and drum music, blues, and contemporary R&B. On The Wandering Sharde plays the fife on two tracks and a drum kit on many others.
A native of Humboldt, Tennessee, located about ninety miles northeast of Memphis, Valerie June plays what she calls “organic moonshine roots music.” A self-taught performer, she began appearing at regional blues festivals in the mid-2000s, turning heads with her unique mix of country and blues, Medusan tangle of locks, and banjo. She gained broader attention in 2009 when she was featured on the Craig Brewer-directed MTV webisode series $5 Cover, a fictionalized take on the Memphis music scene that also included Amy LaVere. Currently a resident of New York City, Valerie June has recorded with hip-hop artist John Forté and appeared at last year’s Bonnaroo festival together with Dr. John and Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, who is coproducing her next album. Her most recent CD is Valerie June & The Tennessee Express, produced by Ketch Secor of the Old Crow Medicine Show and featuring members of that band.