Southern Soul Assembly Brings Four Legends Back to Their Roots

JJ Grey, Anders Osborne, Marc Broussard and Luther Dickinson are currently touring as Southern Soul Assembly -- but Dickinson notes that the emphasis should be on the "soul" rather than the "Southern" part of the name. The reason, he explains, is because everyone in the group draws from their wide-ranging experiences, not just from the place they call home. The group will play two Colorado shows this weekend: Friday at the Ogden Theatre and Saturday at the Boulder Theatre.

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"The music you grew up with, the stories your grandfather told you, the lullabies your mom sang you. You know -- the music you heard when you were a kid, the trouble you got into as a teenager," he says. "It's like everybody draws from their own thing; it doesn't matter where you're from. And hopefully your songs are universal enough to transcend your geography. Soul music is about capturing a spirit, like creating a moment in the room, be it a great singer or a touching lyric or a musical moment that just tickles your spine."

While all of these guys are energetic singers who front their own bands -- like Grey's Mofro and Dickinson's North Mississippi Allstars -- when they're sitting down with a guitar and performing as artists-in-the-round, the music can be just as gripping. For Dickinson, a guy with a guitar is his favorite art form, "be it Robert Johnson in the '30s, or Blind Lemon and Blind Willie in the '20s, or Bob Dylan in the '60s. Woody Guthrie. Anybody can do it now and just transcend time. It's all right there -- the guitar, the song, the singer. There's no ornamentation, just honest, timeless art form."

Dickinson says that when they first started touring last March as Southern Soul Assembly (at Grey's instigation), he was playing more from his latest solo album, Rock 'n Roll Blues, but ended up playing less of it as the tour went on. A song by one of the players might inspire the next guy to do something different from what he'd originally planned.

"You never can tell what you're going to play with this band, because you don't know what the other guys are going to play," Dickinson says. "It's like, 'Whoa, how do I follow what Marc just played?' or 'Oh, my God, how do I follow what Anders just did? The mood just changed. Or, let's keep this mood going.' Anything is up for grabs. Anything could get played at any time. That's the interesting thing."

While some of the tour's sets could include each guy playing a song by himself, the others might join in on vocal harmonies or guitar. Dickinson might play bass, or Grey might bust out his harmonica. "I can't sit there and play and not have Anders play on a song or have Marc and JJ sing," Dickinson says. "It's crazy."

Whatever way they approach it, a taste of the South will still be there: Grey is based in Jacksonville, Florida, while Broussard hails from Carencro, Louisiana, and Dickinson grew up in Memphis before moving to Mississippi. And although Osborne was born in Sweden, he's lived in New Orleans for nearly three decades.

"They're all so different, but it's a similar type of vibe, because all of our music is rooted in the traditions that we grew up around," Dickinson says. "So it's cool to see that, as well, and the different aspects that people vibe on."

Southern Soul Assembly plays Friday, November 21, Ogden Theatre, 935 East Colfax Avenue, $26.75-$30, 303-832-1874, and Saturday, November 22, Boulder Theater, 2032 14th Street, Boulder, $28-$34, 303-786-7030.

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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon

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