North Mississippi Allstars in Denver


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North Mississippi Allstars
Bluebird Theater
Denver, Colorado
January 31, 2009

It's just as well that the Bluebird Theater doesn't have any seats. When the North Mississippi Allstars play, no one would be sitting anyway. Their shows are basically a non-stop two-hour boogie fest. They play "country blues" that has a repetitive, sometimes funky, bass line with chords that don't always get into the classic I-IV-V progression. Some of the extended jams focused on only one chord—giving them a kind of James Brown-meets-the-blues feel. Maybe this is "Trance-Blues." Whatever, it was all a good, party time.

The Allstars are only a trio, but they have a big sound. The band consists of brothers Luther Dickinson on guitar and vocals with Cody Dickinson on drums and vocals. They're joined by the massive Chris Chew on bass and vocals. Chew probably weighs as much as the two Dickinson brothers put together, making for dramatically contrasting stage visuals.

Many of their tunes are based on the type of infectious guitar licks familiar to fans of blues rock from the 70s: bands like Savoy Brown, Ten Years After, and Jethro Tull. And most of the tunes move. Slow songs were few and far between, but from them each group coaxed maximum emotion. "I'd Love To Be A Hippy" is one of those slow tunes, but the lyrics had a comic tone, especially when sung by Chew: "I'd love to be a hippy/But my hair won't grow that long." About half way through that song he took off his hat to display his shiny bald head. Luther's guitar solo examined every nuance of the heartbreak associated with baldness and the consequent inability to be a true hippy.

Besides being a blues band, the Allstars also fit into the somewhat broader category of "jam band." They don't write many of their own songs but instead borrow heavily from some of the original country bluesmen like R.L. Burnside and Mississippi Fred McDowell. Tunes like these aren't very well known in places like Colorado, outside of the Allstars' own versions. So in addition to those songs, they peppered their set with more commonly known covers like "Love the One You're With," "Will It Go Round in Circles" and "Mean Old World."

Hill Country Review opened the show. That band actually features two of the three Allstars. Chew plays bass for this band as well, and Cody Dickinson is a member too, but for this amalgamation he plays guitar and washboard. It's not just any old washboard, but one that he runs through a synthesizer, echo-plex and wah-wah pedal. His washboard solo with all those gadgets was a long way from sitting on the porch in Mississippi rubbing the washboard in time.

Not surprisingly, the Hill Country Review had a similar sound to the Allstars. The band is a little bigger. Besides Chew and Cody Dickinson, the band features Ed Cleveland on drums, Dan Coburn on vocals and harp and Kirk Smithhart on guitar and vocals. They did some originals and some covers too— notably "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love" and "Hard Times."

With all the close connections, it was inevitable that the players would sit in with each other. Luther Dickinson came on for one tune with the Hill Country Review. But the blues milieu got the thickest when all the members of HRC joined the Allstars during their set. Luther Dickinson and Smithhart had worked out a number of twin harmony guitar leads and, coupled with both drummers going at it, the band started to sound quite a bit like the Allman Brothers.

Hill Country Review played for about and hour. About a half hour later, the Allstars came out for a non- stop two-hour set. Good thing it was a Saturday night.

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