On Blues & Ballads (A Folksinger’s Songbook) Vol. I & II, Luther Dickinson finds his way forward by retracing his steps. This ambitious double album collects twenty-one tunes from throughout his life and career—songs he wrote with his rock & roll band the North Mississippi Allstars, songs he learned from friends and family, songs passed down to him by his heroes and mentors, songs that have lived in the American subconscious for decades now—and pares them down to their irreducible elements. Voice, guitar, drums. Here and there some blues fife or Beale Street piano.

The performances on the record itself are some of his most excitable and energetic, with the bounce and rumble of early blues and rock; the arrangements transcribed in the illustrated songbook (which accompanies the vinyl edition of the album) reveal the intricate and imaginative rhythms and melodies that underpin all of Luther’s compositions. “The idea,” he says, “was to re-record everything very stripped down—very acoustic and honest and folky—to accompany the songbook.” As the subtitle suggests, this is only the beginning of what promises to be a multi-volume undertaking.

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