Hill Country Revue

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Hill Country Revue shows their stripes on zebra ranch, a tribute to Dickinson’s dad

 :: Hill Country Revue ::
:: Cervantes’ Other Side :: November 11 ::
:: three20South (Breckinridge) :: November 12::
:: Belly Up (Aspen) :: November 13 ::

By Cornelia Kane

Cody Dickinson has a thing for Lily Allen. Oh, and that girl from Paramore. Don’t even get him started on Rhianna. “It doesn’t even matter if it’s just straight pop. There’s something about female artists these days that’s really interesting to me. They’re just more entertaining. They’re able to say things that men couldn’t, and push that envelope,” the bandleader of Hill Country Revue enthused over the phone in a recent interview with The Marquee. “In my opinion, it is the age of the female artist right now. They’ve completely taken over and it’s all I’m interested in.”

All, that is, except for the new Hill Country Revue album, Zebra Ranch, which was released by Razor & Tie this October. The sophomore effort from the Southern blues/rock five-piece picks up where their 2009 debut, Make A Move, left off.

“The record is very deep for me,” said Dickinson. “I was dealing with the passing of my father at the same time as I was writing this new record and it became all sort of one big healing process. Working down at the barn was a huge part of that. Playing my dad’s piano — he had a red piano, a real nice Baldwin that the whole room is circled around — the piano is the anchor of the room, and it always feels different to play it.”

Dickinson’s father Jim has been on his mind a lot lately, which is understandable, considering the legendary producer (Big Star, The Replacements) passed away last year and the new Hill Country Revue album was recorded in the home studio he built. “Zebra Ranch is the name of the studio where we record,” said Dickinson. “Zebra Ranch is also the name of my family’s farm where my dad built his recording studio. We call it the barn, but it’s really the Zebra Ranch. So, it just made sense [as the album title]. I started to reflect on not just my childhood and not just my family life, but growing up in the country in Mississippi and sort of using descriptive imagery and storytelling styles that I learned as a kid. When I realized how I could be reflective with this record and exciting at the same time, that’s when I knew I was on to something,” Dickinson said.

Dickinson is probably best known for his work with the Southern-rock trio the North Mississippi Allstars, which he co-founded with brother Luther (who is currently slinging guitar for The Black Crowes), but he is just as excited about this new band of his. “I would say that there are more similarities than differences between HCR and NMA,” he said. “The most obvious difference is that I play guitar and piano in this band, whereas I play drums in the Allstars. So for me, it’s completely revitalizing and exciting to be able to play different instruments. It gives me a whole different approach to performing. I’m able to artistically realize my visions very easily in HCR. I always say that if life is what you make it, then creating art is living to the fullest extent.”

Mainstream success is not the ultimate goal for the members of HCR, which is rounded out by Kirk Smithhart on guitar, Dan Coburn on vocals, David Mason on drums and Doc Samba on bass (Samba replaced NMA’s Chris Chew, who held down the low end on the debut record). “We’re not out to sell a million records. We just want people who hear the record to enjoy it as much as we do. That’s our goal,” said Dickinson. We want the music to be enjoyable live, too. We wrote a lot of the new material — “Chalk It Up,” for example — we wrote that onstage in Atlanta. It’s a good way to make sure that the music that we’re going to record is going to be exciting when we play it for our fans live, as opposed to getting in the studio and getting caught up in some sort of singer/songwriter situation that lots of times doesn’t translate.”

“I realized that we had hit our stride as a group creatively when we were writing on the spot in the studio. There’s a lot of pressure when you’re making a record, especially in a recording studio,” Dickinson said. “The environment is completely different and somewhat alienating for musicians. Some are worse — or better — than others. Zebra Ranch, the album’s namesake, is obviously among the better ones.”

The album’s closer, a cover of the Rolling Stone’s “Wild Horses,” might come as a surprise to some for the hard-driving band, but it shouldn’t. “The record is in memory of my father, James Luther Dickinson,” he said. “My dad played on the original recording of ‘Wild Horses,’ you know? He played the piano with the Rolling Stones. He had a lot to do with setting up that whole session up in Muscle Shoals where they recorded ‘Brown Sugar’ and ‘Wild Horses’ — a lot of the songs that went on to become Sticky Fingers.”

:: Hill Country Revue ::

:: Cervantes’ Other Side :: November 11 ::

:: three20South (Breckinridge) :: November 12::

:: Belly Up (Aspen) :: November 13 ::

Recommended if you Like:

• North Mississippi Allstars

• Junior Kimbrough

• R.L. Burnside

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