North Mississippi Allstars
About North Mississippi Allstars
At the turn of the 21st century, brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson (scions of producer Jim Dickinson) and bassist Chris Chew issued their debut album, Shake Hands with Shorty, on Tone Cool Records. The set introduced American audiences to a new take on the music of their region, from blues and bluegrass to hip-hop and ragtime, energetically played with a reverence for both Delta tradition and rock & roll abandon within a framework based on their father's concept of blending experimental/psychedelic excursions into Hill Country anthems and improvisation. For the brothers, the Allstars were a continuation of the tradition they'd been born into, one that included everything from the swampy, snaky blues of Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside, Otha Turner's wooly fife and drum marches, the rock & roll pathos of Jerry Lee Lewis, and country-gospel. Since that time, the North Mississippi Allstars have continued to deliver an astonishing diversity of styles under an unapologetically muddy roots umbrella. Although they remain a trio, they've added players according to the needs recording or touring. Albums like 2005's Electric Blue Watermelon, 2008's Hernando, and 2013's World Boogie Is Coming, were celebrated globally for their rawness, intensity, and fresh spirit, while 2017's Prayer for Peace exported a global vision of the blues as international folk music.
The sons of legendary Memphis producer Jim Dickinson were born in Fayette County, Tennessee and the family later moved to northern Mississippi, where the boys soaked up the country-blues sound of the region from artists like Mississippi Fred McDowell and R.L. Burnside. This became the chief inspiration for the Allstars, but the group also mixed in a rock edge, an alternative aesthetic (comparable to outfits like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and the Black Keys), and their own early punk band D.D.T., with a road-ready rock & roll sensibility akin to jam bands like Phish. After touring as an opening act for a variety of artists and honing their chops as a unit, the North Mississippi Allstars issued their debut, Shake Hands with Shorty, in the spring of 2000. The album was a significant success, earning a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album, as was their 2001 sophomore set, 51 Phantom. Later in 2001, the North Mississippi Allstars teamed with John Medeski and pedal steel player Robert Randolph to form the Word, an instrumental gospel-blues band, for an album and tour.
The North Mississippi Allstars regrouped with the addition of guitarist Duwayne Burnside, the son of R.L., for 2003's Polaris, which was followed by the concert album Hill Country Revue: Live at Bonnaroo in late 2004. Electric Blue Watermelon, which featured guest spots by Lucinda Williams, Robert Randolph, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Otha Turner, and others, appeared in 2005 from ATO Records and earned the band its third consecutive Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album. Also in 2005, the group spent time supporting John Hiatt, who showcased the Allstars on his 2005 album Master of Disaster. This was the first of many extracurricular activities for the Allstars: in 2007, Luther Dickinson became the lead guitarist for the Black Crowes, juggling those duties with leading the Allstars, and while Luther was with the Crowes, Cody Dickinson and Chris Chew pursued their own side project, Hill Country Revue. The core trio of the Dickinson brothers and Chew returned in 2008 with Hernando, the first release on the band's own Songs of the South label. A year later, the Allstars issued Do It Like We Used to Do, a two-disc set of live performances that also included a third disc featuring a video documentary on the band.
Luther and Cody's father, producer Jim Dickinson, passed away in late 2009. The brothers and fellow NMA member Chris Chew gathered in March of 2010 at the family-owned Zebra Studios to record a tribute album. The band had help from a number of family friends who included Ry Cooder, Mavis Staples, Spooner Oldham, Alvin Youngblood Hart, and Jack Ashford. The end result was Keys to the Kingdom (on Songs of the South), a collection of new songs with a lone, single-chord blues cover of Bob Dylan's "Stuck Inside of Mobile (With the Memphis Blues Again)" added to the mix. The set was released in early 2011. In the summer of 2012, James Luther Dickinson's posthumous I'm Just Dead, I'm Not Gone was released. Recorded live in Memphis in 2006, it featured the NMA as his backing band. Arguably the band's masterpiece, World Boogie Is Coming appeared at the end of the summer in 2013. Following a tour, the Dickinson Brothers called time on the band and immersed themselves in solo projects for a couple of years. Upon reassembling the North Mississippi Allstars, they entered the renowned Royal Studios in Memphis and enlisted Boo Mitchell as co-producer to cut five songs. Six more were recorded in studios around the American south. The Allstars gathered a group of friends and longtime collaborators for the sessions, including Oteil Burbridge, Midnight North's Grahame Lesh, Sharisse Norman, Dominic Davis, Sharde Thomas, Kenny Brown, and Danielle Nicole. The completed album, Prayer for Peace, was announced in March of 2017; its title track and a cover of R.L. Burnside's "Long Haired Doney" were issued as pre-release singles. The full-length included a cover of Mississippi Fred McDowell's "You Got to Move" and the standard "Deep Ellum." The band hit the road with Alvin Youngblood Hart in May, and the album appeared in early June.
Back in 1996, Wyatt McSpadden, a photographer from Texas, traveled to North Mississippi looking to photograph local musicians. He'd met Jim Dickinson, who introduced him to his own sons. The Dickinson brothers were excited to show the photographer around their community and introduce him to the musical families of Otha Turner, R.L. Burnside, and Junior Kimbrough. Given their intense touring and recording schedules, the Dickinsons and McSpadden lost touch. He tracked them down in 2017 and showed them the photos taken two decades before. They were astonished by the past, but also reflected how the region's sound continued to embody and resonate as it evolved. Inspired by the images, the North Mississippi Allstars returned to their Zebra Ranch Studio and made the record they heard in those photographs. As usual, they enlisted old friends such as Sharde Thomas and Cedric Burnside, but also invited guests including Mavis Staples, Jason Isbell, and Duane Betts. The end result was Up and Rolling, released during the fall of 2019, featuring the North Mississippi Allstars creating modern Mississippi music inspired by the ancients and reaching into the future. ~ Steve Huey & Sean Westergaard, Rovi