The North Mississippi Allstars have always been champions of the blues. The Dickinson brothers and bassist Chris Chew’s southern gumbo, marinated in Delta swamp water and beefed up with rock, gospel, funk, and jazz, has breathed new life into a style whose free bird had flown away years back. Now, with further outside help, Southern blues is as muddy as ever. Tales of inebriation, delta-love, and rural hardship dot mainstream releases from Kings of Leon to Black Keys and Drive-By Truckers, adding more hickory to an already smoky blaze.

With their fourth studio offering Electric Blue Watermelon, the North Mississippi Allstars continue to build on that resurgence, offering another set of loud, experimental Southern blues. Taking more of a scenic route from the delta than ever before, the trio experiments with classic blues, Muscle Shoals soul, West Coast rock, and Kansas City jazz, creating a unique blend of the blues chock full of influences entangled across the country. While “No Mo,” a panegyric gibe questioning racial attitudes at home, begins with an electronic drum machine, slowly working its way through funky hip-hop before landing in Widespread Panic territory, “Horseshoe” is a hymn-like gospel treat, crying throughout an emotional Sunday service before going to the pub to celebrate. Even elements of pop peer through the cracked Chevy pick-up windshield, especially on the R.L. Burnside-influenced “Teasin’ Brown” and the Lucinda Williams-aided “Hurry Up Sunrise” that is as effervescent as its muse.

Electric Blue Watermelon shows a trio committed to bringing as many ideas to the table, while still fitting them between two thick slices of delta blues. Yet, it is those foreign influences - the R&B drenched soul in “Stompin’ My Foot,” the down-home pedal twang of “Mississippi Bollweevil,” and the rhythmically funky drumming in “Deep Blue Sea” - that keep the record fresh. Rather than just dismissing it as another copycat performance by emulating the vast history behind the delta blues, in Electric Blue Watermelon, the boys are not interested in such plagiarism. Instead, the trio has proven that in the blues it is possible to pursue an alternate path while paying homage to the one previously tread.

Shain Shapiro JamBase | Canada
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[Published on: 7/29/05]

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