There’s a lot to be said for roaming. Then again, sometimes you notice there’s an entire world you never even knew about right down the road.
That’s what happened to Luther and Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars. Before they discovered the electrified country blues scene thriving almost literally in their backyard, writes Robert Gordon in the liner notes of the band’s new live album, the brothers were “something like your average Black Flag-loving teenagers distinguished by a certain respect for Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica.” Their father was an accomplished musician with an eccentric resume (he produced a Replacements album, played piano on the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” and co-wrote the wistful “Across the Borderline, since sung by everyone from Bob Dylan to Harry Dean Stanton), but the boys grew up watching MTV in swampy, rural north Mississippi, oblivious to the down-home sounds drifting through the front door.
Maybe it was the splintered and sutured blues of Trout Mask Replica. It probably wasn’t the MTV, but it might have been their mother telling them, as mothers will, to turn off the tube and go play outside. Something, anyway, made the Dickinson brothers prick up their ears to the local blues dialect, and when the brothers realized what was cooking in their neighborhood they went after it with the tenacity of a couple of young Alan Lomaxes. They found R.L Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, Otha Turner and just as many ghosts as living musicians. Juke joints, Sunday jams with homemade fruit beer, fife and drum picnics. Blues, soul, trance-boogie, the gravelled inroads of hip-hop and the ancient strains of African spirituals. All this music, made fresh daily, just around the way, and never the exact same recipe twice. The Dickinsons immersed themselves in the music of the Mississippi hill country and all its earthy unguents.
Fast-forward eight years and it’s all laid out on Hill Country Revue, the live North Mississippi Allstars CD recorded last June at the Bonnaroo Festival in Manchester, Tenn. Everybody drops in to perform with the Dickinsons and fellow core Allstars Chris Chew and Duwayne Burnside: The brothers’ dad, Jim Dickinson; Duwayne’s dad, R.L. Burnside, son Garry Burnside and grandson Cody Burnside; Widespread Panic keyboardist JoJo Hermann, Otha Turner’s Rising Star Fife & Drum Band (though Turner himself is absent—he died in 2003 at age 94, “still tending his fields with a mule-drawn plow and still dating the ladies”); and Black Crowes vocalist Chris Robinson.
Some extended family, and mother what an album! Hill Country Revue is the pounding pulse of a scene worth taking notice of—even if, living in Montana and all, it’s not exactly right in your own backyard.