North Mississippi Allstars
First Appeared at The Music Box, October 2003, Volume 10, #10
Written by John Metzger
The Dickinson brothers (drummer Cody and guitarist Luther) are on the move again, not that anyone truly expected them to stay within one musical space for very long. Just before the North Mississippi Allstars — which also features bass player Chris Chew and guitarist DeWayne Burnside — could be pegged as a jam band, it delivered a set of hard-driving rock. And now, before it can be placed into the blues-rock bin, the group has constructed Polaris, an album that is as rooted in the blues as it is in psychedelic pop, soul, and college rock.
Just within the span of Eyes, the collection’s opening cut, the North Mississippi Allstars maneuvers from a heavy metal, Mountain-style exchange of guitar and drums to an ebullient blend of blues-pop reminiscent of Cream’s Skip James cover I Feel Glad. Then, it tosses in a touch of Allman Brothers-worthy slide guitar only to settle into a shimmering chorus that comes straight from The Spinners. The group rattles around within this strangely conceived concoction for just under four minutes, after which it swerves into the Sam Cooke-meets-Steve Miller-meets-Neil Young mannerisms of Meet Me in the City. That’s an awful lot to cram into Polaris’ initial few minutes, making a rather bold introductory statement for an album that frequently succeeds.
Rather than forsake the sounds explored on either of its first two outings, the North Mississippi Allstars puts them to good use by forming a firm foundation upon which to build its ambitious new song cycle. Only Never in All My Days; Be So Glad; and a short, instrumental bonus track really could be termed "the blues," and the rest merely intimate the band’s full understanding of the genre. As for the jam band aspect, the North Mississippi Allstars significantly reduces each groove down to its barest essence, allowing a song like Conan to carry the listener into the cosmic realm of the Grateful Dead’s Dark Star through a 90-second solo tucked inside its rolling country-blues groove.
Unfortunately for all its zeal, the North Mississippi Allstars does occasionally lose its way, falling into college rock cliché (Otay and Kids These Daze) one minute and joining the myriad of others who’ve tried their hand at creating Beach Boys-infused pop (One to Grow On) the next. This isn’t to imply that any of the songs on Polaris fall completely flat. In fact, they can be quite infectious, fun, and occasionally majestic. The problem, however, is that the band seems to be dipping its hands into too many pots, so much so that it spreads itself thin, traveling somewhere that is intriguing, but inevitably failing to come up with the fresh idea that makes the journey worthwhile. Without question, there is a gem of an album contained in Polaris. The North Mississippi Allstars just don’t find it with any sort of consistency.
Of Further Interest...
Polaris is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box