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Friday, April 18, 2008

North Mississippi Allstars

Hernando (Songs of The South)

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The North Mississippi Allstars’ roots are deep in the Robert Johnson American blues catalog, as shown in the group’s 2000 debut, Shake Hands With Shorty. The band earned a formidable reputation for its live performances while touring in supporting roles and at festivals. They fit a niche between other blues rockers like the Black Keys and jammers like Dave Matthews Band. Tours also led to collaborations with artists such as R.L. Burnside, Robert Randolph and Medeski, Martin & Wood, so it’s not surprising that the band’s music has evolved and changed with each release. Their last album, 2005’s Electric Blue Watermelon, a collection of mostly upbeat tracks, earned them a Grammy nomination.

Hernando is the group’s fifth studio album and its first on the Songs of the South label. The CD was produced by Jim Dickinson, father of drummer Cody and vocalist/guitarist Luther. Bassist Chris Chew helps to give Hernando a more aggressive approach that delivers a classic electric blues-rock crunch in the vein of Cream or Led Zeppelin.

MusicCD_NMAS.jpgDisc opener “Shake” features the blues guitar of Luther Dickinson, who was recently added to the revamped Black Crowes lineup. That song gives way to the slower “Keep the Devil Down” and the plodding “Soldier,” which sounds like a lost Mudhoney track. “Mizzip” recalls Exile-era Stones, “Blow Out” is a short up-tempo rockabilly piece and “Eaglebird” is a ZZ Top-style boogie. The Allstars’ take on Champion Jack Dupree’s “I’d Love to Be a Hippy” fits in well with this pleasing, eclectic mix, and the CD comes full-circle by ending with the more-traditional “Long Way From Home.”