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North Mississippi Allstars Hill Country Revue

Contemporary blues is a nexus of racial, geographic, and cultural connections, and somehow North Mississippi Allstars ó guitarist Luther Dickinson, his drumming brother Cody, and bass-playing behemoth Chris Chew ó pulled them all together with their Hill Country Revue at this past Juneís Bonnaroo Festival in Manchester, Tennessee. They loaded a fife-and-drum band, members of the Burnside family including patriarch R.L. and his sons Duwayne and Gary (both guitarists) and Cody (a rapper), and their own dad, the gifted-eccentric producer/pianist Jim Dickinson, aboard a bus in their native North Mississippi and headed, well, a little farther north, where they were joined on stage by former Black Crowes singer Chris Robinson and Widespread Panic keyboardist JoJo Herman.

R.L., in ill health but great spirits, lacks his once fiery delivery on the few tunes he sings, including a version of "Jumper on the Line" that benefits from Jim Dickinsonís piano coloring. But the elder Dickinsonís own "Down in Mississippi" is a drunk-and-rowdy-sounding hoot, and Duwayne brings the funk to his own blues, "Bad Bad Pain." "Friend of Mine" even takes on a hint of Hendrix in its heavy chording and pentatonic solos, which are sweetened and brightened by the attenuated tone of a half-cocked wah-wah pedal. Jimi fans, think "Izabella." Then the guitars go farther out in "Be So Glad," creating swirling psychedelic textures that set up the tuneís sung chorus and Cody Burnsideís rapping. With blocks of floating tremolo guitar and slinky, fatback ninth chords, two contrasting vocal styles, and lyrics that evoke classic blues imagery, itís a transcendent performance that connects all the elements the revue pulled together.

How could things get hotter? Thatís where the fife and drums come in: four veterans of the late Othar Turnerís group keeping the beat snappy and tight under Lutherís best Duane Allman guitar licks while R.L. tosses in an occasional encouraging "yeah" on "Goiní Home Part 2." Itís a beautiful piece of music, far more interesting, playful, and brightly melodic than anything the current edition of the Allmans played on their recent Tweeter Center date. The glue, of course, is Luther, Cody, and Chris, who play expertly throughout and deserve to bask in the joy of assembling a historic performance.

(North Mississippi Allstars appear this Sunday, October 10, at Pearl Street, 10 Pearl Street in Northampton; call 413-584-0610. This Tuesday, October 12, theyíre at Lupoís at the Strand, 79 Washington Street in Providence; call 401-272-5876. And next Thursday, October 14, theyíre at the Paradise, 967 Commonwealth Avenue in Boston; call 617-562-8800.)


Issue Date: October 8 - 14, 2004
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