Rockin’ blues muse |

Rockin’ blues muse

Wren Wertin

Knee-deep in dirty roots, North Mississippi Allstars are back in the valley and ready for more. They return to the bouncy floor at 8150 for two nights of music today and tomorrow at 10 p.m.

Continuing the family business of music (father Jim Dickinson is the famed musician/producer who worked with Ry Cooder among others), brothers Luther (guitar) and Cody (drums) Dickinson spent days in the studio, watching their father and other artists. Cody began playing professionally for his dad at age 11. While still teen-agers, the duo recorded with the Replacements, the New Gospel Choir, Toy Caldwell, Mojo Nixon and Billy Lee Riley.

Fortuitously, the brothers went to school with bassist Chris Chew. Chew was class favorite and a football star; he made his rock debut playing guitar for Hernando High School’s Homecoming Dance. But he’d been bitten by the southern bug early, and for a while didn’t miss a single Sunday service. His leanings fit in well with the Dicksons’, as the brothers – whose first band initiative was a punk one – discovered old-school blues rock straight from the hills, with soul to spare.

The trio went on to cut their first album, “Shake Hands with Shorty,” which earned them a Grammy nomination. Described by Spin Magazine as “a brash youth-man covers collection drawn mainly from hill-country blues forefathers, Mississippi Fred McDowell and R.L. Burnside,” it’s a mixture of blues, gospel and rock. “Phantom 51” is a different bird all together. Comprised of primarily original music, it wanders off into more rock territory. The in-your-pocket grooves are liberally sprinkled with guitar distortion and psychedelic beats; it even revisits their punk roots. For the Allstars, music is a journey with an open-ended destination. It comes around again and again, staying alive through movement.

“Music is a celebration of life, a self-declaration of being alive,” writes Luther. “The first time I heard it I felt I was finally communicating with people from my planet. This is a journey I had to make. It’s all I wanted to listen to. It’s all I want to play.”

As written in a previous Vail Daily article, Daddy Dickinson produced “Phantom 51”, and describes it as primitive modernism:

“The only thing I could possibly pass on was this. It’s kind of a curse and a blessing, God help ’em. When I see them playing for an audience it really makes it all worthwhile. In a time when everything is so homogenized, even if they weren’t called the North Mississippi Allstars, I don’t think there would be any doubt where they were from.”

The North Mississippi Allstars play 8150 in Vail tonight and Saturday at 10. The club will sell out, so get tickets early. They’re $16 in advance, and $18 at the door.

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.

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