Hot Stuff: The North Mississippi Allstars shine on.
A roots-rock band you shouldn’t miss
By Greg Cahill
‘If this were 1971,” the Los Angeles Times once opined in a review of the North Mississippi Allstars, “these gentlemen would be the biggest band in the world.”
Even in the derivative scene that is pop music circa 2005, the Allstars are hot stuff. Their rootsy rock is a fusion of Mississippi hill-country blues (as played by the likes of R. L. Burnside), alt-rock aesthetics and jam-band sensibilities–sort of like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion with a whole lot more soulful country blues in the mix.
The core of the band, Luther and Cody Dickinson, are the sons of influential Memphis record producer Jim Dickinson, who has contributed his keyboard talents to everyone from Aretha Franklin to the Rolling Stones, and produced Big Star’s landmark 1974 power-pop album Third/Sister Lovers, among other notable discs (including recent CDs by Chuck Prophet).
Raised in northern Mississippi, the Dickinson brothers–who perform May 22 at the Mystic Theatre–have been involved in some darned fascinating projects of their own. Which is to say they’ve done their daddy proud.
Their 2000 debut, Shake Hands with Shorty, evoked the steamy juke joints that pepper the northern Mississippi countryside. The CD found the Allstars covering four songs by Mississippi Fred McDowell, three by Burnside and one by his Fat Possum label-mate Junior Kimbrough, a pivotal figure in the raucous blues style that has influenced the White Stripes, Jon Spencer and others. Comparisons to the Allman Brothers, Little Feat and even Cream are inevitable–and the brothers aren’t apologizing for that one bit.
Indeed, they returned in 2001 with 51 Phantom, which featured mostly originals and an even rootsier sound. That same year, the band teamed up with organist John Medeski of the jazz-fusion band Medeski, Martin and Wood, along with ball-of-fire pedal-steel player Robert Randolph to record the eponymous disc The Word, a gospel-inflected instrumental that was one of the highlights of the year’s roots-music scene. (As a group, the Word are scheduled to perform next month at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Tennessee; no word on a follow-up album.)
In 2003, the Allstars enlisted Burnside’s guitarist son, Duwayne, for Polaris, an ambitious release that veered wildly from shiny pop to Cody’s rapping to 95-year-old fife player Othar Turner’s old-time spin.
They may not be the biggest band in the world, but the Allstars are living up to their reputation for innovative roots music that is setting the standard for modern blues.
The North Mississippi Allstars perform on Sunday, May 22, at the Mystic Theatre. 21 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. 8pm. $18. 707.765.2121.
Adventures In Clubland
There’s plenty to keep North Bay roots-music fans happy in the coming weeks. On Tuesday, May 24, bluegrass young bloods King Wilkie team up with special guest Kevin Welch, the driving force behind the Dead Reckoning band label, and collective for a red-hot night at the Sweetwater Saloon in Mill Valley. . . . Early-rock guitar legend and distortion pioneer Link Wray–whose 1958 instrumental hit “Rumble” inspired the likes of Jimmy Page, Neil Young, Jeff Beck and others–shakes the 19 Broadway Niteclub in Fairfax on Friday, May 27. . . . New Orleans R&B great Dr. John brings his hoodoo to the Last Day Saloon in Santa Rosa on June 910 to kick off the nightclub’s fourth anniversary.
From the May 18-24, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.