North Mississippi Allstars: Hill Country Revue

Adrien Begrand

North Mississippi Allstars

Hill Country Revue

Label: ATO
US Release Date: 2004-10-12
UK Release Date: Available as import

Brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson have always had somewhat of an ambitious plan for their band, the North Mississippi Allstars. Over the past five years, the band's evolution has been especially smooth, as they keep altering their sound on each release, while still remaining loyal to their musical roots. 2000's Shake Hands With Shorty focused on the hill country blues the brothers grew up hearing in their native state, boasting energized covers of songs by the likes of Junior Kimbrough, R.L. Burnside, and Otha Turner. 2001's 51 Phantom had the band proving they were more than capable of composing original blues numbers, and effortlessly blended the blues arrangements with a harder-edged, distorted, rock sound, and last year's wonderful (and woefully overlooked) Polaris took the sounds of the first two records, and combined it all with a surprisingly sweet element that sounded influenced by the likes of Big Star and the Replacements, two bands whom their famous father Jim Dickinson produced in the 1970s and '80s. So, as another chapter in the history of the North Mississippi Allstars ends and another begins, what next? Well, according to rock cliché, if you release three albums, the fourth must be a live album.

Along with bassist Chris Chew, and more recently, second guitarist Duwayne Burnside, the Allstars have established themselves as one of the most potent live bands in America, adding some badly needed energy to both the blues and the jam band scenes, and their new live recording, Hill Country Revue, captures that youthful ebullience perfectly. Appearing on record store shelves a mere four months after their recorded performance at the 2004 Bonnarroo festival in Manchester, Tennessee (these boys don't waste any time), the album isn't your usual North Mississippi Allstars show, either. A band who consistently performs well as a four-piece, they decided to have some fun on this particular afternoon. It's all there in the title; the four members of the band bring along all their friends, including the great R.L. Burnside and his family, Luther and Cody's dad Jim on piano, the late Otha Turner's Rising Star Drum and Fife Band, organist JoJo Hermann, and if that weren't enough, Black Crowes singer Chris Robinson.

The resulting set is one with all the musical intensity of a Southern juke joint, but with the relaxed, fun atmosphere of a backyard barbecue. Luther shreds away with his killer slide guitar licks, Cody provides his usual great drumming (not to mention a great washboard solo, where he uses a wah-wah pedal to great effect), and Chris Chew is superb on bass, as the band and guests tear through a set that consists of covers and originals. After a fiery performance of "Shake 'em On Down", the real fun begins, as the guest musicians sit in; Jim Dickinson takes a solo turn on J.B. Lenoir's "Down in Mississippi", Burnside has fun on his original "Jumper on the Line", Robinson does a good job on the cover of Ry Cooder's "Boomer's Story", and Cody Burnside adds a terrific hip hop element to "Be So Glad" and "Snake Drive". Still, few bands can jam like these boys, and the album's two medleys provide the most fun; Otha Turner's grandsons add their unique fife and drum sound to the Turner medley of "Shimmy She Wobble" and "Station Blues", while the 12 minute Burnside medley segues from "Po Black Maddie" into "Skinny Woman", and back into "Maddie" again, with Luther's slide guitar shining all the while. For nearly the entire set, seated on a throne onstage, is the jovial Burnside, wearing a ballcap that says "RETIRED", who, when he's not singing, offers his commentary on the proceedings throughout the show, punctuating performances with a cheerful, "Well, well, well..."

As Jim Dickinson says so perfectly in his liner notes, the band and their friends "rocked like a La-Z-Boy recliner on the front porch of a backwoods doublewide." Hill Country Revue is warm and convivial, and is loaded with energetic performances, in direct contrast to the usual bland noodling one would hear from, say, The Dead or Dave Matthews. Fervently indebted to their blues roots, the North Mississippi Allstars are never hesitant to add their own musical flair to an old sound, and as a result, their music is always lively, daring, and a wonder to hear. This album captures the band's remarkable versatility perfectly.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.