By: Neil Salsich
North Mississippi Allstars :: 03.12.10 :: The Pageant :: St. Louis, MO
"Welcome to the North Mississippi Hill Country Revue!" Those words, shouted by Hill Country Revue's Daniel Coburn as he shook his mic stand triumphantly before the crowd, marked the end of the evening's most amazing display of collective musicianship and the beginning of a fervently appreciative crowd's ravenous applause. It was well deserved considering what had just taken place: a shimmering, joyous take on the North Mississippi Allstars' "Going Home" that morphed into a triple guitar wrestling match between the Brothers Dickinson and their Hill Country Revue pal Kirk Smithhart. Three guitars onstage is a risky move, but when done right, the music flies. Colorful notes and rich harmonies swirled together, rolling over each other and building incessantly towards their peak destination and the song's end, all lathered down with sticky-sweet Southern rhythm by bassist Chris Chew and Hill Country drummer Ed Cleveland. It was everything great about rock and roll: sunshine, soul and salvation.
Though the show was billed as two separate acts (Hill Country Revue opening for the North Mississippi Allstars), thankfully the two bands spent at least half the evening sharing the stage. It was in these 30 minutes or so of communal playing that the music really opened up. Before that, however, the Allstars already had the audience positively worked up with their signature low-down-and-dirty take on Mississippi Hill Country blues. Oozing "cool" in shades, a flannel shirt and swinging brown hair - and boasting a rotating arsenal of mouthwatering Gibsons - Luther Dickinson plunged the trio down into some devilishly dark, psychedelic riffage. He's a fascinating player to watch because of his constantly changing technique; one minute he'll be searing the strings with only a slide and his fingers on a greasy blues number, and the next he'll be flatpicking his way through an Allmans inspired boogie, the best around this side of "Blue Sky."
Riding the low end to Luther's muscular melodies was bassman Chris Chew, a towering giant of a man who kept his lines slippin' and sliddin' underneath, murmuring up meaty rhythmic backbones to the songs. In contrast to his imposing stature was his honey-coated voice, wherein lies the group's secret weapon. He lent his pipes to more than a few numbers, including "I'd Love To Be A Hippy," and at times stole the show, charismatically working the room like a pro. Stationed behind the drum kit and rounding out the trio with his rumbling percussion was drummer - and Luther's brother - Cody Dickinson.
Key to the Allstars' sound is the two musical poles their playing straddles, i.e. bone rattling blues that almost tear down the walls mingled with bouts of freewheeling Southern boogie that can't help but inspire grins and gaping jaws. Sometimes a song itself - "Lord Have Mercy" being a prime example - was a constant journey between the sticky, muddy blues of the swamp and the open water and blue skies of the ocean. It's no-frills-rock-and-roll; no need to focus on frantic chord changes, modulating keys or the like - just two feet planted firmly on the ground, a cold beer in your hand and a little rhythm in your hips.
|Luther Dickinson :: 01.23 :: by Miller|
The night really peaked when the remaining members of Hill Country Revue (Chris and Cody already being onstage) joined the band for a few numbers. It began with a lengthy but absolutely engaging "drums" segment between Cody and Hill Country Revue drummer Ed 'Hot' Cleveland. Witnessing these two in actions - both during their rhythmic duel and later with the rest of the musicians - reminded me what an awesome and fascinating sight a double drummer rock band really is. When done right, I'll maintain that two drummers are always better than one; being able to hear and see the effect it has is simply one of the most exciting things in live music. With arms flying, snares snapping and symbols crashing, the two wove in an out of each other in percussive lines that leapfrogged the beat but came together at precisely the right moments. Lightning in a bottle. The Dead and the Allman Brothers do it best, but this night's duo was not far behind.
With the whole gang onstage, the music really took off. Daniel Coburn howled soulfully alongside Luther, who, spurred by HCR's Kirk Smithhart, wrangled the songs into submission with blistering slide work and some deep, dark, psychedelic wah-wah. Surprisingly (or not, considering his musical pedigree), Cody Dickinson wasn't half bad on the axe. With Ed Cleveland taking over - and boy, did he own the drums - Cody emerged from behind the kit to spit out a few licks and work with Luther and Kirk in a euphoric, chill-inducing "Going Home." It's great fun to dance and get down, but it was moments like this that I caught myself standing stone still and slack jawed, in awe of the music and the rumble in my chest. As a trio or with their friends, the Allstars delivered. Heavy hooks, blues and country boogie are meant to be played like this. Amen.
For more on the Allstars, check out our 2008 feature.
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