CD Review: North Mississippi Allstars

Hernando Songs of the South
Music •••• Sound •••

Studio Album No. 5 by the North Mississippi Allstars is in many ways their best and most original. It's a rootsy yet thoroughly contemporary blues/rock fusion that reminds me of nothing so much as the Rolling Stones' Now! - in spirit if not in sound.

Most of the songs feature the band's basic sonic template, perhaps best described as a sort of abstract version of Jimi Hendrix summoning John Lee Hooker. And as usual, Luther Dickinson's nasty slide-guitar work is something of a wonder. But there's more attention to songcraft here than on previous efforts - and (probably) thanks to the characteristically brilliant (and eccentric) production work by dad Jim Dickinson, the whole thing not only holds together as an album, for a change, but also holds your attention song-to-song in ways that the earlier records didn't.

The high point is an astonishing cover of Champion Jack Dupree's "I'd Love to Be a Hippy," which despite some of the most exquisitely arranged and layered guitar-and-piano work you'll ever hear still manages to have the rapturously languid feel of a late-night jam session in a smoky dive. Also great are some out-of-the-blue harmonies on the concluding "Long Way from Home" that should get the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up. In fact, in a rational world, a song like the endlessly infectious, gospel-inflected guitar-rocker "Mizzip" would actually be a hit. Bottom line: Don't miss this one.

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