Luther Dickinson and Sisters of the Strawberry Moon
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Astrologists apparently believe the annual “Strawberry Moon” (christened not for any red color but because it appears around the time the fruit is harvested) signals a time of transition. It’s an appropriate name then for this unusual collaborative project helmed by blues-based artist Luther Dickinson.
The guitarist/producer convened six female roots-based musician/vocalists (Amys Helm and LaVere, Birds of Chicago’s Allison Russell, Sharde Thomas, the Como Mamas) at his own Zebra Studio to engage in a sort of casually focused jam session for four days during 2016’s titular lunar phenomenon. Some additional parts (fiddle, organ from Hi legend Rev. Charles Hodges, and guitar from Alvin Youngblood Hart among others) were overdubbed later. But the concept on the basic tracks was for these women to interact with each other in a live, somewhat unrehearsed situation, and record the results.
It’s an appropriately loose-knit affair comprised of originals and covers, some of which have already been recorded by the singers on their own albums. Folk, blues, fife and drum, gospel, soul, country and even light funk all intermingle in these dozen mostly unplugged performances. Much of the appeal is not knowing what you’ll hear next. It might be a clarinet or banjo (played by Birds’ Allison Russell) sneaking in or an a cappella gospel like the Como Mamas thrilling, roof-raising closer “Search Me.” Or Amy Helm’s beautiful rendition of “Like A Songbird That Has Fallen,” and her own ballad “Sing to Me,” featuring clarinet and Dickinson’s slide guitar having a honeyed conversation. All singers get two songs each, distributed randomly, which makes for a tasty flow.
Although his name is featured, Dickinson’s own contributions generally support the women and their songs. The North Mississippi Allstars frontman lays low and lets the singers drive the material, as it should be.
Sharde Thomas is the big find here, soulfully crooning “We Made It” and the frisky jazz/bluesy “Fly With Me,” both originals. That’s not to dismiss Amy LaVere who clicks with her sweet/scratchy innocent vocals on a revisited “Hallelujah (I’m A Dreamer)” and a down-home “Cricket (At Night I Can Fly).”
Why this low-key, homey and altogether delightful gathering took two years to appear is unclear, but hey, the next Strawberry Moon is due in June of this year. Maybe Dickinson can arrange for another jamboree of his female friends for part 2. If this charming album is any indication, he should make it a yearly tradition.