In 1996, when Luther and Cody Dickinson started the North Mississippi Allstars, blues-festival promoters and record-label hacks alike saw the band as the potential salvation of a very stale blues scene (i.e., better ticket and CD sales). They were more or less correct on all counts.
- Tuesday, June 13, 2017, 8 p.m.
Belly Up Tavern,
143 S. Cedros Avenue,
Brothers Luther and Cody, son of the late record producer Jim Dickinson, came out of the Deep South with instant credibility and vitality to burn. For a time, they were the blues flavor-of-the-month and fans and the music industry could not get enough. It was 2000 when the band’s first major release (Shake Hands with Shorty) got a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album. They’ve since replaced the Louisiana Goners as John Hiatt’s road band and Luther, the guitar player of the two (Cody plays drums and keys), has subbed in the Black Crowes.
The thing about the blues as a form of entertainment is that no stone has been left unturned on that dusty road. Every possible musical idea has been exhausted by now, but blues audiences seem not to care and are especially prone to sudden outbursts of youth and energy. NMA brings to the blues the essence of a jam band. The solos are lengthy, and the song lead-ins rumble on and on through the big speakers like a somnambulistic groove.
Now touring in support of release #19, Prayer for Peace is both a timely entreaty and a step, after 20 years together, toward a new-found maturity. But it’s not the first time the North Mississippi Allstars has gone to the wall over cultural matters. From 2001’s 51 Phantom: “Found dead people in the forest/ Tallahatchie River and lakes/ the whole wide world is wonderin’ what’s wrong with the United States.” Not children’s music, Luther Dickinson once told a reporter. He was right about that. “We get better at it the older we get.”