The North Mississippi Allstars’ performance at the Bearsville Theater on October 25 brought hot Mississippi sounds to chilly Woodstock, NY in a fusion of old-school blues and modern jam-rock.
The trio, made up of bassist Chris Chew and brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson (lead vocals/guitar and percussion/guitar/vocals, respectively) played songs off their latest album, Keys to the Kingdom (2011), plus a few older favorites and well-known covers. Allen Toussaint’s “Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky” and Ray Charles’ “Sittin’ on Top of the World (Now She’s Gone),” which the band opened with, kept the crowd dancing. The latter, which has been covered by Dylan, Nelson and other famed musicians, set the mood immediately with Luther’s sleek slide guitar, present thoughout the show.
The simple yet soulful “Mean Ol’ Wind Died Down” from earlier release Electric Blue Watermelon (2005)—also featured in the Black Snake Moan movie soundtrack—began with a sound reminiscent of 1930s blues, winded through with memorable lyrics such as “I wanna feel the way it sounds,” and finished with an Allman Brothers-tinged jam session; the term “psyche-Delta” comes to mind.
Bassist Chew—who played with such a look and feel of contentment that it felt voyeuristic to watch him—took over on vocals a few times, his sweet, soulful voice singing audience members into a swoon.
The band’s unique instrumentation was just as impressive as their performance. At one point, Luther played a four-string, cigar-box bodied guitar; later he used one made from a coffee can, using the open end as a megaphone. To accompany the “can-tar,” percussion-savant Cody played a washboard rigged with an electric pickup, producing a guitar-like effect. The jam turned into a funky electric hoedown. Further proving his talent, Cody later managed to play beautiful rhythmic acoustic guitar while singing and drumming, not missing a beat.
Through the entire show, the threesome exuded energy and had fun onstage, with each other and with the audience—as evidenced by Chew’s exaggerated-yet-encouraging (and slightly hilarious) claps to one rhythmically-challenged audience member. The band stated they’d waited a long time to return to the area, and as a bit of a homage to the region, partnered up with Catskill Mountainkeeper, who offered information about the dangers of local hydraulic fracturing.
The tour continues to Brooklyn October 26 and 28 before heading out west. For more information visit www.nmallstars.com.