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Bentley’s Bandstand: South Memphis String Band, Pieta Brown, Stile Antico

Posted By Karen Young On February 2, 2010 @ 9:49 pm In Arts & Culture,Music,spotlight | No Comments

billbentley110BY BILL BENTLEY


South Memphis String Band, Home Sweet Home, Memphis International Records

SouthMemphisStringBandLuther Dickinson, Alvin Youngblood Hart and Jimbo Mathus are the members of this trio. They play timeless music from the South, and it is a true fact not many people can do this anymore. It will take you to a place where bountiful trees grace the land and heartfelt sounds fill the air. It is not something that should be taken for granted. Father Jim Dickinson, who died last August, wrote the liner notes for this mesmerizing album and his words are worth repeating: “Spring thaw. The voice of the turtle is heard in the land. Nature’s miracle of rebirth fills the breeze with the sweet smell of Easter blossoms. It’s a good time to listen to the blues. As the free world teeters once again on the terrifying brink of depression return with us now to those bygone days of yesteryear and lose your troubles in the timeless songs of the South Memphis String Band. Three young contemporary blues artists, each in his own right a rising star. Three modern Mississippi musicians on a knight’s quest to retrieve, preserve, and carry into the future America’s most unique and meaningful musical statement. String band music from the Mississippi Sheik’s and Cannon’s Jug Stompers to the South Carolina Chocolate Drops represent to scholars the pre bebop of the South. Sophisticated chord progressions syncopate into what appears to be medicine show vaudeville humor yet with a dark core of philosophic irony that gives modern relevance and meaning to an antique form. These three musicians are each different and yet the same. Luther Dickinson’s good natured slide has spread North Mississippi Hill Country Boogie to the world. Jimbo Mathus is the singing voice of  Huckleberry Finn. The mighty Alvin Youngblood Hart is a force of nature and perhaps the best modern purveyor of the early Delta blues alive today. So pull up a chair and pour some gin in your glass. If you don’t dig this there is seriously something wrong with you. World Boogie is coming.” —Jim Dickinson/Independence, Mississippi

Pieta Brown, Shimmer, Red House Records

PietaBrownJapanese brush painting can be a deceptive art; at first glance it seems simple enough but on closer inspection there is nothing easy about it. The same with stripped-down music. Absent any high-gloss production or over-energetic instrumentation, a musician really has to have an inner greatness to succeed. And make no mistake: Pieta Brown sounds like someone to the kingdom born. There is clarity of strength in these seven songs that speaks of a vision rarely seen in someone so young. Produced by Don Was, who also plays string bass, and accompanied only by the elusive Bo Ramsey on electric guitar and harmony vocal, Brown adds her own acoustic guitar to give an austere but undeniable edge to everything here. Born in Iowa and raised mostly in Alabama, Pieta Brown lived a life on the move, which no doubt allowed her to hold on to images and emotions as much as tangible things. Father Greg Brown offered the role model for a musician’s path, but the daughter definitely has found her own way. The original songs capture the delicate side of love’s young life, but on “Hey Joey” and “El Guero,” she doesn’t back away from anything. Others, like “Loving You Still” and “Diamonds in the Sky,” are both fragile and fine-tuned. This woman may well one of the best modern songwriters we have. Her previous albums have all been knock-outs, but there is something about Shimmer that says it’s a breakthrough. Back to that Japanese brush painting, and the way it can capture the eye with what looks like a minimum of effort. Of course, its takes endless hours to learn what to leave out and how to emphasis the really important elements in the painting. Pieta Brown has obviously put in the time. Now it’s our turn to discover the beauty.

Stile Antico, John Sheppard: Media Vita Harmonia, Mundi Records

media150Every few years an album is released that no matter who hears it responds, “That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard.” The latest from the young 14-voice British choral group Stile Antico surely wins the award this time around. They have toured widely with Sting in Europe, as well as performing at festivals in America. They sing a broad and moving array of styles, including works by the English Tudor composers, music from the early Baroque period and compositions of the Flemish and Spanish schools. The joy Stile Antico have for their performances is overwhelming, and can be felt from the moment they start to sing. Media Vita, however, is something else entirely. Composer John Sheppard remains something of an enigma. Writing in the first half of the 16th Century, he is an underperformed master, possibly because not many of his transcripts survived. The liturgical pieces are highly prized, and soar and transport the listener to the upper reaches of the cosmos. “The Lord’s Prayer” is enough to bring anyone with a heartbeat to their knees, and shows how music really is it’s own language, no translation necessary. Other originals include simple English-texted anthems written in the reign of Edward VI, along with immortal Catholic hymns. To try and describe the time-stopping beauty of this album is to quickly learn the limits of words, but know these sounds capture the essence of human life, and offer hope in the ongoing survival of the human spirit.

Bill Bentley is a writer, musician, publicist, record producer and A&R director. He once played drums with Lightnin’ Hopkins. For more reviews and music news, go to www.sonicboomers.com

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