Review: ‘North Mississippi Allstars’

Whatever mold the North Mississippi Allstars broke with a finessed and dressed-up approach to boogie on "Electric Blue Watermelon," they reassemble for a rough 'n' tumble stage show.

Whatever mold the North Mississippi Allstars broke with a finessed and dressed-up approach to boogie on “Electric Blue Watermelon” (ATO), they reassemble for a rough ‘n’ tumble stage show. Trio at heart is a powerhouse outfit that puts the blues of John Lee Hooker and the Mississippi hill country through the same grinder dozens of blues rockers did in the ’60s and ’70s, but the Allstars do it with a smile on their faces; there’s probably not a better band around to invite to play your backyard barbecue.

Act tours relentlessly and was celebrating its return to the road after a 10-day break. Material from October’s “Watermelon” was abundant in the trio’s House of Blues show, but the nuance of the record — supplied by acoustic instruments, a gospel choir and ancient woodwinds — was forsaken for a dense and hard-hitting approach that veered toward the Allman Brothers Band and ZZ Top at their tightest. What’s country-fied hip-hop on record “No Mo'” becomes slow-mo call-and-response in concert, more of a return to century-old roots than a look at the cross-breeding of genres.

Like the blues musicians who influenced him, guitarist-singer Luther Dickinson works with solemn passages that concern mortality and vulnerability as well as rambunctious numbers that do little more than call for a party to get started. He’s at his best using his slide guitar in tandem with his detached voice — the deadened soul beside a tearful mourner — and, as a song progresses, alternating between flat-picking and finger-picking, slide and straight, stinging guitar leads.

Using the blues as a root, North Mississippi Allstars are a healthy branch on the Southern rock tree, and as they improvise on some rather basic compositions, they often return to that classic ’70s-bred sound on top with a denser Bo Diddley-ish sound on the bottom.

Dickenson’s brother Cody operates as a workhouse behind the drums, and Chris Chew slithers through soulful bass parts while Luther Dickinson ensures most trips through the familiar territory have a twist.

They can sonically evoke the Jimi Hendrix Experience — but they do so while playing a piece of James Brown-inspired funk. Best of all, they captivate for a two-hour spell by knowing when to take flight to keep it all compact, a tribute, we’ll say, to one of their mentors, the late R.L. Burnside, who mixed it up with the best of them.

North Mississippi Allstars

House of Blues; 1,000 capacity; $20

Production

Presented inhouse. Reviewed Jan. 11, 2006.

Cast

Band: Luther Dickinson, Cody Dickinson, Chris Chew.
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