NORTH MISSISSIPPI ALLSTARS
Guitarist Luther Dickinson and his brother, drummer Cody–two-thirds of the North Mississippi Allstars–spent their youth learning from hill country elders like bluesman R.L. Burnside and fife player Otha Turner. Not surprisingly, the Allstars’ only full-length CD, this year’s Shake Hands With Shorty (Tone-Cool), samples Turner on its opening track, and seven of the ten tunes are by Burnside or his mentor, Mississippi Fred McDowell. (The title is Burnside’s favorite way to say “take a leak.”) But the Dickinsons have also learned a thing or two from their dad–Memphis producer and avant-roots rocker Jim–and treat their influences as raw materials, not as sacred texts. Though Cody’s solid drumming is by no means cluttered, it’s more polished than the primal tub thumping of, say, Cedric Burnside (who guests on two tracks). And bassist Chris Chew covers everything from turbocharged boogie to rutted backroads funk. The trio takes an iconoclastic approach to the hypnotic, grinding blues of northern Mississippi, embracing 70s southern rock, claustrophobic punk, and even a dash of hip-hop; the liner notes tellingly thank former tourmates like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Medeski, Martin & Wood. Plenty of reviewers and fans seem to think the Allstars’ music is revolutionary (they themselves have christened it “world boogie”), but to my ears it’s a lot like what blues-rock groups in San Francisco were doing in the 60s, at least before the acid and the egos took over: on one of the McDowell tunes, “Drop Down Mama,” Luther disrupts a country-fried pickfest with a wild psychedelic flight, dissolving a spiral of slide curlicues into a buzzing swarm of single-string figures reminiscent of Jorma Kaukonen at his most unhinged. The band’s sound also bears some resemblance to what papa Dickinson was doing in Memphis with Mud Boy & the Neutrons toward the end of the decade. That’s not to say the Allstars’ update isn’t welcome: at a time when the blues seems increasingly polarized, with less and less middle ground between museumlike sterility and the mindless excess of the beer-and-boogie set, it’s a blast of fresh air. Friday, December 15, 10 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee; 773-489-3160.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Chapman Baehler.