How delightful it is to hear three musicians take the blues, that mystically magical musical form of 3 chords over 12 bars sound raw, fresh, and new. When I listen to The North Mississippi Allstars (NMAS) that's exactly what I hear. While new, their sound is always reverential to the giants of the hill country sound in whose footsteps they follow. Their reverence, while present, is not the focus of their music. Instead of dominating their sound it's subtle. Listening to their music I believe that they are taking hill country blues to the next level.
NMAS formed in 1996. This trio is comprised of brothers Luther (guitar/vocals) and Cody (drums, keyboards, washboard) Dickinson and Chris Chew (bass). The Dickinson brothers are the son of Jim Dickinson, a Memphis musician and record producer. For a time, Duwayne Burnside, played second guitar in the band. Duwayne Burnside is a son of hill country blues legend R.L. Burnside. R.L. Burnside's music has had a huge influence on NMAS.
NMAS made a splash in 2000 with their first phenomenal album, Shake Hands With Shorty, which was nominated for a Grammy Award for "Best Contemporary Blues Album". 14 releases, and 2 more Grammy Award nominations later, their Keys to the Kingdom, is a mix of traditional hill country blues, honkey-tonk, and southern rock. My favorite cuts are those emphasizing the sounds of the blues, and honkey-tonk music. While most of the music on this album is new they do a masterful job reinventing Dylan's classic, "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" as a blues tune.
Enjoy Keys to the Kingdom's "Jellyrollin All Over Heaven"
This summer I read Peter Guralnick's masterful book, Last Train to Memphis about Elvis Presley's early life in Tupelo, Mississippi; Memphis, Tennessee and his rise to stardom. I've learned a great deal about the fusion of blues, gospel, and country into a new sound at Sun Studio in the mid 1950s. When I listen to NMAS I hear them fuse those same sounds into something completely new.
I have had the good fortune to see NMAS twice live. Both times their sound has been well mixed, their playing first rate, and their set lists well thought out.