North Mississippi Allstars
Shake Hands with Shorty
First Appeared at The Music Box, June 2000, Volume 7, #6
Written by John Metzger
To listen to the North Mississippi Allstars’ Shake Hands with Shorty is to crawl into one of the South's many dark and dusty juke joints. You can smell the hard liquor, hear the paint peeling off the walls, and feel the oppressive heat and humidity hanging in the air. The band was founded by Cody and Luther Dickinson — the sons of legendary producer Jim Dickinson. They were raised in North Mississippi, just to the south of Memphis, and there’s no question that they fully absorbed all of the music that they heard throughout their childhood. The group’s songs burn with passion for the music of R. L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough — so much so that it’s truly frightening.
Yet, Shake Hands with Shorty is so much more than just a straight blues album. Sure, that’s the heart and soul of it, but that’s only the beginning of the journey. The band grabs hold of the music from the Mississippi Delta and drags it through the paisley blues of the psychedelic ’60s and the raging impulses of the explosive ’90s. The blues masters are crossed with the Allman Brothers Band, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and Pigpen-era Grateful Dead, and then they’re rolled up nicely with a flash of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Alvin Youngblood Hart. It’s rock ’n‘ roll at its grittiest, most primal essence — and the band is just making their debut.
From the shuffling rhythm of Shake ’Em on Down to the driving pulse of Kimbrough’s All Night Long, drummer Cody Dickinson takes command of each groove — pushing it along and never letting go. Bassist Chris Chew alternates between providing a solid rhythm and delivering an alternate lead. Much like the Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh, Chew straddles the fence, taking flight whenever he desires but never completely turning his back on his rhythmic responsibilities. Guitarist Luther Dickinson rounds out the trio, delivering devilishly delirious leads sure to please fans of the late great legends from Duane Allman to Robert Johnson.
In addition, throughout Shake Hands with Shorty, the North Mississippi Allstars manage to capture the feel of a live concert experience with all its raging intensity and giddy playfulness. Bits of "Sonny Boy" Williamson’s Good Morning Little Schoolgirl and the Bobby "Blue" Bland hit Turn on Your Lovelight drift through All Night Long, and the bottom effortlessly drops out of Po‘ Black Maddie to yield an extremely Allman-esque jam. This eventually gives way Skinny Woman before mutating back to Po‘ Black Maddie — all with the dreamlike ease and fluidity of unspoken communication.
It might, at first, seem a bit presumptuous for the band to call themselves the North Mississippi Allstars, but this is one group that lives up to its name. Make no mistake, they are going to take the jam band scene by storm, while once again turning the spotlight on the rich legacy of the blues.
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2000 The Music Box