New Orleans blues singer Olga Wilhelmine Munding and Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars and Hill Country Revue have teamed up to write and perform a contemporary pop album with an 80's feel. Olga's voice is a smooth blues vocal which has been compared to Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Nicks and the alter ego of Paul Westerberg, Grandpa Boy. She was classicly trained and later heavily influenced by Jessie Mae Hemphill. Olga has a long history of music recording as well as acting, and involvement with cultural celebrations in New Orleans, through the Krewe of Muses. She is a founding member of the Jessie Mae Hemphill foundation in New Orleans.
Cody Dickinson is the son of the late Jim Dickinson and brother of Luther Dickinson. Cody and Luther formed the North Mississippi Allstars (NMA) with bass player Chris Chew. Luther also has recently been on lead guitar with the Black Crowes, but often tours with NMA as well. Cody has been performing and writing music since he was a small child and has been crafting a drum style that is signature to the sounds of North Mississippi and historically reminiscent of the musicians during the era of the Civil War. His father, Jim Dickinson, was a blues piano player, a music producer, and has recorded with Alex Chilton among other legends in the field. Cody and Luther recorded a beautiful, historic and down right house rockin album in honor of their father called "Keys To The Kingdom" which was reviewed here.
The thread I'm following is the transformation of the roots blues that were planted and sown by RL Burnside, Otha Turner and Jim Dickinson himself. Olga and bands like NMA are not in some type of revival, they are living blues legends now. I am fascinated to watch how they integrate their experience into contemporary music writing.
Olga has several albums prior to this new release that are clearly blues. But after the death of Cody's father and some personal transformations in Olga's life, the team decided that 'letting go' was an important process for them musically.
"Whatever You Want" is very different than their other works. It is smooth radio friendly pop and the refreshing drink that is serves will quench your thirst for a new twist on the blues again and again. This album will become part of your daily life as the arrangments are catchy, lyrics are wise and instrumentation is complex. It is a timeless record. Olga and Cody wrote all of these original songs. You will discover something new every time you listen.
The album opens with the easy breezy flow of the title track, Whatever You Want. It is uplifting, melodic, and inspiring, destined to be the radio hit.
They Want More changes the pace quickly toward a mysterious vibe. The recorder threads through the song with repeated lyrics as to not distract. The bridge and end picks up that distinctive NMA sound with some deep guitar licks.
My favorite song on the album is the third one, Call Me When You Figure It Out. I heard this for the first time when I was walking with my iPod and could have walked forever. What I love about it is Olga's voice is so well trained, that is doesn't have to stop at logical points within the song. She extends the lines but never oversings the song. There are elements of surprise in the phrasing just listening to her climb and return. My daughter is studying music and said she, "jumps the octaves and hangs out in high treble C!" There are some piano backup and keyboard effects that give the piece a rich texture and the guitar accents validate the raw southern rock sound at its base. Overall, it soars, as Cody's drums are precisely placed to tick away at the core of it, building appropriate tension and keeping the beat.
Just Take Your Time reminds me of Langhorn's Be Set Free and similar works. The video produced maps out a story of prioitizing what's important and is a nice introduction to Olga and her inviting style.
Birds of Sorrow has a Neville Brothers reggae vibe to me. We also hear a bit more grit from Olga that new listeners told me they find themselves craving from her. The lyrics are wise and able to be generalized to anyone, anywhere with any struggle they may have at anytime. It is this inclusiveness that seems inherent in who she is as a person, given the community works and foundations she's accomplished. There's trouble in life, but with trust and strength within yourself, you move on ~ to the groovy beat of your own journey.
It Comes And It Goes is catchy and ethereal. What is she talking about ? What is "it" ? Keep listening ... it's up to you to define.
Little Is Known is the perfect harmonious, dance-able, drive-able 80's pop song, if that is the sound they were after. The shaker, the hum of the bass line and deep drumming alongside the high backup sounding vocals all come together into a great production. Even the guitar accents and the closing chorus have a retro feel to them, but are folded into a contemporary sound.
Better In Someway is a somber link to the transition of letting go. A slower move toward a steady march, accompanied by a narrower range of sound to lead the path.
It Is What It Is has a technical, demonic groove to it that reminded me of the Hot Swing Jazz genre. I'm not surprised, this is New Orleans !
Nothing More To Say had a Stevie Nicks power to it. I've been a Nicks follower since I can remember. This is almost a power ballad.
Don't Look Back reminded me of the sound that the 10, 000 Maniacs had after Natalie Merchant left. A smoother mix focused on blending the instruments and vocals with a river of undercurrents in the background.
Time For Somebody New is the closing number that signs off with a definitive answer to getting a fresh start, taking care of yourself. Mid-song, Olga belts it out to deliver her message.
It's difficult to imagine that it was just Olga and Cody tinkering away at these songs. They are all somewhat different from each other, yet blend together in a great mix for the whole of the album. I hope they tour with this album, I think it would be great to hear Olga's entire catalog live and Cody's electric washboard is welcome in any town !
"Whatever You Want Track Listing"
1. Whatever You Want 4:41
2. They Want More 3:50
3. Call Me When You Figure It Out 4:13
4. Just Take Your Time 3:44
5. Birds of Sorrow 4:47
6. It Comes and It Goes 3:30
7. Little is Known 4:39
8. Better In Someway 3:21
9. It Is What It Is 4:08
10. Nothing More to Say 3:44
11. Don't Look Back 3:33
12. Time for Somebody New 3:44
Record Label: 219 Records
Release Date: June 2011
Winn McElroy Producer- Engineer
Olga Wilhelmine Munding- Composer
Olga- Synthesizer, Guitar, Piano, Recorder, Vocals, Producer, Shaker
Cody Dickinson- Synthesizer, Bass, Guitar, Compos
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er, Drums, Producer, Fender Rhodes