- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2003

North Mississippi Allstars

Polaris

ATO Records/Tone Cool

The North Mississippi Allstars’ 2000 debut, “Shake Hands With Shorty,” fueled a neo-blues revival. Paying homage to the rural, Northern Mississippi “hill country” music pioneered by Fred McDowell, the Allstars — brothers Cody and Luther Dickinson with their friend Chris Chew — forged a mesmerizing new hybrid of blues performed with an aggressive punk rock twist. In the process they updated the blues’ living tradition with their fluid, mutually complementary musicianship and energetic sonic barrage.

The sons of legendary Memphis musician/producer Jim Dickinson, the Dickinson brothers are the home-schooled beneficiaries of their father’s work with blues and blues-rock masters Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Duane Allman, Ry Cooder, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Albert King, Alvin Youngblood Hart, and scores of other seminal artists.

The Allstars earned Grammy award nominations with both “Shorty” and its frolicsome 2001 follow-up, “Phantom 51.” With “Polaris,” their third CD, the Allstars have created a blues milestone at once eclectic, modernist and genre-spanning. Fusing hill country blues, alternative rock, psychedelic pop, hip-hop and a taste of funk, the record marks the dawn of a new Southern rock.

“Polaris’” diverse collage unfolds seamlessly. “Eyes,” “Conan,” and an untitled bonus track feature subtle, eloquent slide guitar by lead singer Luther Dickinson suggestive of the late Mr. Allman. The John Lee Hooker-style “Never in All My Days” is a staccato, serpentine boogie complete with gritty vocals.

Drummer Cody Dickinson’s singer/songwriter debut, “One To Grow On,” accentuated by guest vocals from Oasis’ Noel Gallagher, represents the Allstars’ furthest venture into pop. Crooning of “a cold shoulder to cry on,” the younger Dickinson demonstrates adroit songwriting on this heartfelt ballad.

Adding another layer of texture to the mix, new guitarist/singer Duwayne Burnside, son of the hill country blues deity, R. L. Burnside, joins the Dickinson brothers to form Mississippi’s first modern, second-generation blues super-group.

On “Polaris” Mr. Burnside and the band cover another hill country traditional song, Junior Kimbrough’s ghost-like “Meet Me in The City,” transforming the tune into a romping, sentimental groove. Mr. Burnside’s own composition, “Bad Bad Pain,” recalls the steely urban funk more often associated with Buddy Guy than the surreal numbers penned by his own father.

The CD’s final cut, “Be So Glad,” is an intense, hypnotic gangsta rap-meets-chain gang-chant complete with haunting fife fills by the late Otha Turner, a Como, Miss., bluesman who died last February at 94.

More impressive, perhaps, than any individual track here are the sincerity and seriousness underlying the whole album. Both the Dickinson brothers and Mr. Burnside appear to understand that they form a vital link between the blues’ past, present and, thanks in part to them, its highly promising future.

The North Mississippi Allstars and “Polaris” give nepotism a good name.


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