Words & Images by: Aaron Lafont
North Mississippi Allstars/Alvin Youngblood Hart :: 02.22.08 :: Tipitina's :: New Orleans, LA
On their latest trip down the Freedom Highway, the North Mississippi Allstars took fellow folk, bluesman, Alvin Youngblood Hart along for a hot, rambling ride deep into the depths of the Delta. Emerging near the mouth of the Mississippi, they stopped in at Tipitina's to deliver a homespun revival for a faithful New Orleans bunch eagerly awaiting the call to "Shake 'Em on Down."
Hart rung in the ceremony, unfurling a harrowing set of low, stripped down, raw, hill country hymns. Summoning the spirits of the past, his haunting moans and howling guitar licks echoed throughout the hall and called forth tales of Junior Kimbrough, Henry James Townsend, and Mississippi Fred McDowell. North Miss Allstar Luther Dickinson joined Hart for a few tunes, including a stirring interpretation of the folk staple "How Long Before I Change My Clothes," a track previously exhumed by Hart on his 2002 release, Down in the Alley, and most recently performed by him in the Denzel Washington film, The Great Debaters. Before handing the reins over to NMA, Hart closed with a crackling take on Leadbelly's "Gallow's Pole."
As the crowd gathered in tight around the stage and the onlookers standing above along the balcony peered over the edges, the North Mississippi Allstars slid into the southern rock turns of "Write Me a Few Lines" before settling onto the heavy hooks of "Keep the Devil Down" from their recent album, Hernando. Though only officially released one month ago, not only did many of Hernando's tunes make their way into the setlist, they also sparked some of the evening's liveliest moments, tapping into the band's country boogie and providing a solid base to contrast with and heighten the intensity of their raucous, freewheeling, psychedelic blues. Early on, "Someday Baby" bit the brawny lip of rock while the familiar shuffle of "Drop Down Mama" fell right into the fiery pulse of Hernando's "Take Yo Time Rodney." New honky-tonk, barnburner "Shake" settled perfectly into the crowd pleasing jam, "Goin' Down South." Other highlights drawn from the new album included the Chris Chew (bass) led cover of native New Orleans' blues master Champion Jack Dupree's "I'd Love To Be a Hippy" and the twangy, uptempo "Mizzip" led by drummer, Cody Dickinson.
Luther & Hart :: 02.22 :: NOLA
From the onset, the Allstars had the near capacity crowd bobbing and hopping to their home cooked blend of juicy blues, finely aged folk and greasy roots rock. Besides their exceptional musicianship, perhaps the NMA's greatest attribute is their uncanny ability to transfer a shared sense of camaraderie to their listeners. With Luther's blistering guitar solos weaving in and out of Big Chew's loose, meaty bass riffs and Cody's high energy, feel good beats, the NOLA crowd was left with no other option but to get down and dirty.
After turning the gospel leanings of "Horseshoe" into an impromptu, celebratory take on the city favorite "When the Saints Go Marching In," the Allstars had everyone ready to cut loose to the raggedy grit of "Po Black Maddie" and "Skinny Woman." Following a guitar showcase featuring brothers Luther and Cody, Hart joined them for a welcome sit-in that delivered an utterly chilling, unglued Hart-led rendition of the folk byway "In My Time Of Dying." Later, rising from the happy-go-luck chants of the Blues Brothers' anthem "Everybody Needs Somebody (To Love)," the Allstars lighted into "Meet Me in the City" before rolling through a unhinged version of "Snake Drive," complete with a wicked Tom Morello-like, pickup toggling solo, to end their set.
Leaving the crowd on their feet, chanting for more, the band were more than willing to serve up another heap of their southern fried fixings, as the rave antics of Cody's washboard melee, "Psychedelic Sex Machine," ushered in the encore. The cathartic, call and response of the blues ballad "Mean Ol' Wind" spread smiles across the room, and the hilltop rock of "Ship" primed the audience for the electrified broomstick and cigar box finale, "Mississippi Boll Weevil."
After years of earning their stripes on the road and honing their chops in the studio, the North Mississippi Allstars have established their footprint on the musical terrain, growing tighter with each show and more cohesive with each album. Collectively, these three country boys with an insatiable appetite for the blues coupled with a predisposition towards powerhouse rock have developed into more than just a good time band for a niche audience. They are a force to be reckoned with regardless of genre, promising joyous, soulful, thrilling experiences to all those inclined to partake.
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