North Mississippi Allstars recorded their characteristically raw new album in Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans, Brooklyn, Austin, St. Louis, Kansas City, Missouri, and Hernando, Mississippi. Echoing the album’s scattered studio locations, singer-guitarist Luther Dickinson mentions another list of cities in the album’s title song, “Prayer for Peace.”
“Chicago, Paris, Charleston, New Orleans, San Bernardino, Boston, Orlando,” Dickinson laments of cities shaken by violence. “Let us pray together. Let us pray for peace.”
“Prayer for Peace” mixes urgency and uplifting energy reminiscent of the Staple Singers’ civil rights-era freedom songs. Shardé Thomas’ guest vocals and fife playing complement the message.
There’s more social commentary in the rough neo-psychedelic rock of “Need to Be Free.” Written by Luther Dickinson and Junior Kimbrough and recorded at New Orleans’ Music Shed Studios, the song pleads for peace and justice in the Dickinson brothers’ home state of Mississippi.
Following the messages in the album’s opening few songs, the Dickinson brothers turn to more traditional topics. There are fresh takes on the traditional songs “Deep Ellum” and “Bid You Goodnight.” There’s also a raw power-trio rendition of classic North Mississippi blues man Fred McDowell’s “61 Highway.”
The Dickinsons interpret three songs by another archetypal North Mississippi blues artist, R.L. Burnside. True to the source, the Dickinsons don’t do anything fancy with Burnside’s music. “Miss Maybelle,” featuring Luther Dickinson’s slide guitar, rides a downhome groove. “Bird Without a Feather,” one of the album’s two songs recorded in New Orleans, is another noisy, primal performance. The simplicity of the largely instrumental “Long Haired Doney” can put a listener in a blues trance.
Several guests, including Allman Brothers Band bassist Oteil Burbridge and Mississippi Hill Country guitarist Kenny Brown, enhance Prayer for Peace. Worthy contributions, but nothing obscures the Dickinson brothers, who formed North Mississippi Allstars 21 years ago, as they reach their mid-career stride.