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The North Mississippi Allstars

Our critics' picks in new releases

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The North Mississippi Allstars rev it hard on 51 Phantom. A trio comprised of brothers Luther Dickinson (guitar and vocals) and Cody Dickinson (drums) with bassist Chris Chew, the Allstars eschew frills for a primal blues/swamp/rock mojo that cooks. While Luther can growl like Howlin' Wolf, which he does on the title track (sort of "Thunder Road" gone retro), he possesses the chops to deliver what I like to call "sear" guitar, burning slide that rides the frets a la Jeff Beck. And on the track "Snakes in My Bushes," you feel a menace that is palpable. The Dickinsons come by their musical heritage legitimately. Dad Jim is a famed Memphis-based producer-musician in his own right and manned the board for 51 Phantom, which explains its authentic rootsy feel. On their previous release, Shake Hands With Shorty, the Allstars covered blues numbers by Mississippi Fred McDowell, R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. Here, they provide the bulk of the material but include Kimbrough's "Lord Have Mercy" and Roebuck "Pops" Staples' "Freedom Highway." There are ballads, too, "Leavin'" and "Up Over Yonder," before the Allstars get down and dirty with "Mud," as in "beat your feet to the Mississippi." You may glean snatches of the Stax/Volt roster, Allman Brothers, Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix in the Allstars' mesh, but that only seems fair, given that they grew up listening to these artists. But their pedigree shines through. For my money, 51 Phantom recalls ZZ Top's First Album, arguably their best, as it was more about blues than gimmicks. This is the perfect soundtrack by which to read James Lee Burke.

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