Written by Fantasma el Rey
I first heard the North Mississippi AllStars when I bought their first album Shake Hands With Shorty out of curiosity. I had seen the CD before and wondered at the band’s name and song titles, such as “Po Black Maddie” and “Shake ‘Em On Down.” I picked up the disc and it’s been in my rotation ever since, and deservedly so, because these Southern Kats lay down a mean country/blues boogie that’s infectious and new.
The AllStars line-up has not changed from that first album released in 2000. The trio, brothers Luther (guitar/vocals) and Cody Dickinson (drums) and Chris Chew (bass), love what they do, which shows every time they take the stage, from small clubs to large open-air festivals. These gents are house rockers and always leave you wanting more. From the opening chord pick on the cigar-box guitar (Luther plays an actual homemade cigar-box guitar) to the last bass pluck the North Mississippi AllStars give us their all.
The concert DVD, Keep On Marchin’, recorded live in Burlington, VT, on 11/11/05, captures the magic that the AllStars posses as a unit, providing two hours of jammin’ blues-based rock ‘n’ roll. Luther plays a stinging, wicked guitar as brother Cody keeps time and beyond, kicking and banging out solid beats that keeps the feets moving. All the while Chew’s bass thumps in and around, fattening the sound and adding to the vibe of fun and brotherhood this three-piece band projects.
It doesn’t mater how these kats play because it’s their passion that gets to you. No matter if they’re stompin’ out low-down, “mean as hell” blues like “Shake ‘Em On Down,” “Going Down South” with its hip hop/ blues back beat or slowing the pace down with “Hurry Up Sunshine.” They can even play that real rock drive on “Bang Bang Lulu” with the same sounds that delivered early rock ‘n’ roll to the masses.
And these good ol’ boys haven’t forgotten their Southern rock heritage either, taking every opportunity to extend a song and jam. “Ship” opens with five minutes of instrumental work before the vocals begin. “Psychedelic Sex Machine” is Cody’s chance to shine on the electric washboard (that’s right, electric washboard) cutting loose and transforming this old-time jug band instrument into one of the future by bending and extending notes on the Wa-Wa pedal. Chew’s bass work comes to the fore here as well, thumping and pulsating fat, “funkdafied” rhythms while Luther moves behind the skins keeping the beat.
What makes the N.M. Allstars stand apart from the rest of the current blues/Southern rockers is their blending of old and new. Their songs are based in the roots and traditions of the South from blues, country, and rockabilly. One can even see traces of Chew’s gospel upbringing, and it’s easy to see that they’ve learned well from their father, legendary producer Jim Dickinson. At times adding elements of hip-hop, or as Luther puts it “Dirty Southern Gangsta’ Rap,” by looping certain voices and instruments to sound like it’s being scratched by a DJ gives the music its own spin. The mixing of all these Southern sounds blend very well together and is a testament to the inventiveness and solidarity of this band of brothers.
All in all the North Mississippi AllStars should not be missed whenever they’re in your town or near your town. These guys work hard, love what they do, and it show on stage night after night, no matter if it’s a club, beer joint, honky tonk, or hole-in-the-wall pub. Go out and support one of the best young solid blues-rocker acts around, and pick up Keep On Marchin’ and every CD that they have released.