Olga, featuring Cody Dickinson – Whatever You Want (2011)

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I came in expecting blues grit, something kind of dangerous — after all, New Orleans singer Olga Wilhelmine Munding has been doing that for a while. She’s also a founding member of the Jessie Mae Hemphill Foundation. And Whatever You Want features Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars.

Forget all of that. I came out with a new-found appreciation for Olga’s darkly intriguing popcraft, and for Dickinson’s ability to put aside the deep-fried Southern rock licks he’s long favored on the guitar for something more in keeping with the popular music of their youth in the 1980s. You still hear a bit of Bonnie Raitt in Olga’s singing, but also now some Stevie Nicks.

Whatever You Want released on 219 Records via Redeye Distribution, was recorded at Black Wings Studio in Water Valley, Mississippi, with Olga and Dickinson playing all of the instruments. That, along with some concurrent heartbreak, gives the project an interior, very emotional center — despite its occasionally sunny sheen. Olga, who plays guitar and keyboards, was in the midst of a divorce. Dickinson, who also adds rhythm and keys, was going through a final illness with his father, the late legendary producer Jim Dickinson.

That gives the “Just Take Your Time,” a raw piece of power pop that would have pleased the Jim Dickinson-produced Alex Chilton, this added coloring. “Birds of Sorrow” recalls Olga’s New Orleans roots, with an Neville-ish, island-inspired rhythm — but its broader implications remain clear. There are dreamy, almost trance-like moments during several of the cuts — including “Take Your Time” (with a repeated “it is what it is” lyrical signature) and, especially, “Don’t Look Back” — that speak even more deeply to the period of mourning that Olga and Dickinson were enduring. “Nothing More To Say” and “Time for Somebody New” help complete a recording that bravely deals with passages, even while confidently moving away from the expected musical underpinnings for the duo.

Olga has come up with an inventive way to sell Whatever You Want at her shows: Printed dropcards containing the site and code information to download all the album art and music that are made out of recycled paper embedded with wildflower seeds. Once you are done with the card, you can bury it in the yard — and grow flowers.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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