Luther Dickinson and Sisters of the Strawberry Moon, "Solstice" (New West)
Some of the solo and parallel projects of North Mississippi Allstars guitarist-vocalist Luther Dickinson have been among his most fascinating work.
He continues that tradition on the diverse "Solstice," where his role as producer and musical matchmaker gives the spotlight to Sisters of the Strawberry Moon, a custom-made lineup that includes some longtime collaborators (Amy LaVere and Sharde Thomas), a Mississippi gospel trio (The Como Mamas), the husband-and-wife duo Birds of Chicago and Amy Helm.
Recorded at the Dickinson family's Zebra Ranch Studios in (where else?) Mississippi, "Solstice" has the kind of effortless quality that results from musicians collaborating on similar wavelengths.
Drummer and fife player (a family tradition) Sharde Thomas' two songs — "Fly With Me" and "We Made It" — are brief, optimistic and delightfully playful, while Amy LaVere expertly reprises David Egan's "Hallelujah (I'm A Dreamer)" and kills softly with the romantic menace of her own "The Night Is Still Young."
Amy Helm takes the lead on the soulful "Sing to Me" and a cover of "Like a Songbird That Has Fallen," from the "Cold Mountain" soundtrack.
The Como Mamas are a group in themselves, their acapella renditions carrying powerful messages — "Turn the light from heaven/On my soul/If you find anything that shouldn't be/Take it out/And straighten me."
Distinguished guests include Charles Hodges (from the Hi Records rhythm section) on Hammond B-3 organ, and guitarists Alvin Youngblood Hart and Will Sexton (LaVere's husband).
And Luther Dickinson? He also plays guitars as the ladies perform, their voices blending and standing out with equal grace and emotion.