Record Reviews 

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Jungle Jim and the Voodoo Tiger

James Luther Dickinson

(Memphis International)

Jim Dickinson's "family band" forges magnificent musical melting pot.

Jungle Jim and the Voodoo Tiger is to Dickinson's 2002 Free Beer Tomorrow what Bob Dylan's "Love & Theft" was to its celebrated predecessor, Time Out of Mind: The earlier record is too worried-over in retrospect. But the looser new record is a modest little sneak attack, with music and humor and humanity bursting at the seams.

Recorded on the quick at Dickinson's North Mississippi home studio, Jungle Jim and the Voodoo Tiger is an accidental melting-pot manifesto about what "country" music might mean, with honky-tonk and jug bands and juke-joint blues melding into folk-rock and Southern soul and rockabilly boogie. You could simply call it "Americana" if Dickinson didn't end the record with Brazilian instrumental "Samba de Orfeo."

That all these genres mix with such laid-back grace is a tribute to Dickinson's formal audacity but also to the utter ease of the great band he's assembled, with his North Mississippi Allstar sons Luther and Cody Dickinson at the core and a tight cadre of first-rate local musicians filling out the lineup.

This is not a touring band, but the easy intimacy Dickinson coaxes out of them is reminiscent of Willie Nelson's "family band." Some players get a chance to step out and shine: violinist Tommy Burroughs, appropriately, on "Violin Bums," saxophonist Jim Spake on "Out of Blue," and, most of all, Luther Dickinson on "Samba de Orfeo," where he launches into an impossibly delicate guitar run that is far removed from the rock and blues he's made his career with and that immediately certifies a side-project waiting to happen.

But mostly it's the rootsy, communal mood of the record that hits so deep. And it helps that Dickinson gives the group such great songs to play. As wonderful as it is to hear Dickinson and his ace band ripping into standards like "Truck Drivin' Man" and "Hadacol Boogie," Jungle Jim is perhaps more compelling for the equally worthy obscurities Dickinson unearths. The album opens with "Red Neck, Blue Collar," a rousing, stomping, growling class-conscious anthem recently written and barely released by old Dickinson pal Bob Frank. Elsewhere, Dickinson rescues great songs by obscure songwriters (Collin Wade Monk, Greg Spradlin) from the dustbin of history. -- Chris Herrington

Grade: A

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Fishing With Charlie (And Other Selected Readings)

Jim Dickinson

(Birdman)

Ten selections in 40 minutes of producer/raconteur Dickinson reading poetry, fiction, nonfiction, etc. The choices -- Langston Hughes, Nick Tosches, Tennessee Williams, John Brown's Body, Kerouac -- sum up Dickinson's underdog beatnik-Americana aesthetic, but his immense personality, unique smarts, and earthy, infectious sense of humor can't be captured by other peoples' words, only by his own. (Or, right, by other peoples' songs.) I could listen to Dickinson talk forever. My patience for listening to him read is far more limited. But let it be noted that this record exists. -- CH

Grade: B-

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The Northern Souljers Meet Hi-Rhythm

Various Artists

(Soul-Tay-Shus)

Like the Great Lounge Fad Fiasco of 1994, young white hipsters' current love affair with vintage soul is an embrace of the colorful and "exotic" that discourages aesthetic discrimination. But unlike the Great Lounge Fad Fiasco of 1994, it's a trend that's unearthed or repopularized as many true hidden treasures as obscure-for-a-reasons, and maybe more. (And you'd better believe Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings trump Esquivel or Love Jones.) This most-definitely-marketed-to-indie-rockers collection of early-'60s soul sides cut in Memphis by Detroit artists working with producer Willie Mitchell has more hits than misses, and even the misses deserve an airing. Best discovery: Lee Rogers. ("Talkin' About That Girl of Mine" -- The Persians, "Cracked Up Over You" -- Lee Rogers, "Cloudy Days" -- Don Bryant) -- CH

Grade: A-

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