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North Mississippi Allstars

(10 Nov 2001: Bowery Ballroom — New York City)

There’s something about brothers in rock & roll. For some mystical reason, when they join forces musically the results are (oftener than not) a joy and a revelation. To wit: the Kinks’ Davies Bros., the Chambers Brothers, Gregg & Duane Allman, the Robinsons of the Black Crowes and, the hottest in the land, the Bielankos from Marah. Luther and Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars mightily reaffirmed their membership in this sonic fraternity recently at Manhattan’s Bowery Ballroom.

Since the release of their previous Tone-Cool outing, Shake Hands With Shorty, the NMA’s New York City shows have been just a few shouts and one holy ghost short of a revival. Mirroring one of the blues workouts from this show’s set, their concerts tend to be extended, sweaty affairs that go on “All Night Long”. The trio’s got an elastic and alert rhythm section, consisting of Cody Dickinson on drums and childhood friend Chris Chew on bass (who got the most acclaim). At this show the boys were joined by one of the legendary North Miss Burnside clan, Duane, on rhythm guitar and vocals, their combined traditional and blues rock sound creating a space—- like the aforementioned Marah—- for white folks to get funky and get down.

Alas, at the Bowery, it seemed that the NMA’s lacked the audience that they deserve. The room was clogged to the gills, split between high and tight college yayhoos for whom the concert was an excuse to get wrecked, and older, more intense music fans keen on supporting the Dickinsons’ endeavors to restore some roots to the pop landscape. The former used each new song as an excuse for a beer run; the latter danced their asses off or swayed intently along the walls.

The audience really didn’t need external stimulants at this show. The NMA’s performance style—- full of seamless segues, rolling jams, lightning-quick shifts—- produces such a hypnotic spell that all one can do in their exalted presence is boogie. Most of the new songs were characterized by a move away from vintage North Mississippi hill country-isms toward a psychedelic blues rock in the vein of late Hendrix (“Freedom”, “Earth Blues”). Indeed, Luther Dickinson’s guitar variously quoted Carlos Santana and Duane Allman. At one point, it definitely seemed that the band were about to break into Dickey Betts’ “Blue Sky” at any point. The set really jumped when Burnside stepped to the mic on the forthcoming album’s “Look Over Yonder” and towards the end when favorites from the debut were dropped in rapid succession: “Goin’ Down South”, “Po’ Black Maddie” & “K.C. Jones (On The Road Again)”. By the time Cody Dickinson brought out the washboard for a solo preceding the encore, it seemed as if no more ass could be shook. Then the band returned with “Shake ‘Em On Down” and let the rhythm hit the crowd.

The brothers’ legendary producer father Jim Dickinson likes to sign off his correspondence with the exhortation: “World boogie is coming”! Well, as evidenced by this gig and the new material from 51 Phantom, it’s clearly already done come.

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