North Mississippi Allstars: Keep On Marchin'

Doug Collette BY

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The simplicity and passion at the heart of the blues become all the more impressive as successive generations (re)discover those virtues. The North Mississippi Allstars recorded their DVD, the inaugural title on their new label, in November of 2005 at the fan- and performer-friendly Vermont venue Higher Ground, and Keep on Marchin' documents an evening of epiphany for both the band and its audience.

This young Southern trio took some time to produce and release this package, but its emergence on Songs of The South suggests business as much as artistic factors were involved in the comparative delay. Both fans and dilettantes might wish there had been preparation of more extensive interview footage; nevertheless in approximately ten minutes of concise but good-natured, offhandedly insightful interludes with siblings Luther and Cody Dickinson plus bassist Chris Chew, there's a fairly complete outline of the roots, history and present day state of NMA mind.

Another bonus feature of the package is a trailer for yet another DVD due for future release. The pending disc is intended to document the story of the North Mississippi Allstars and their loyalty to the Southern lore within which they grew up. The references the trio makes to hill country blues modes, awareness of contemporary styles as far afield as hip-hop, and its dedication to predecessors (including but not limited to RL Burnside and the Dickinson's father producer/musician Jim), will no doubt be explored in finer detail in that project.

In the meantime, the concert captured on the present production in high-definition audio and video makes a statement of its own on the part of the band and its music. The North Mississippi Allstars are neither slavish to nor self-conscious about their connection to the blues, which is why displaying the band in antique sepia tones on and off through the film is so appropriate. The period-piece quality of the music displayed in "Shake'Em on Down has a wholly different frame of reference suitable to the sepia colors, as guitarist Luther is shown in front of his stack of Marshall amplifiers (hearkening back to Hendrix and Cream). The single concession to pure showmanship is Cody's electric washboard spotlight on "Psychedelic Sex Machine," and even that carries a modicum of roots credibility.

At the time of this late autumn appearance in the Green Mountains, The Allstars were touring in support of Electric Blue Watermelon, their latest CD release, and the inclusion of "Hurry Up Sunrise displays how they've learned to modify blues structures to accommodate pop song forms. The bulk of the setlist, however, is comprised of selections from NMA's earlier releases (annotated descriptions of which appear as another bonus feature on this DVD). Quick cuts, often edited at a dizzying pace, from one band member to the other, and into the audience at various angles around the club, recreate the kinetic excitement of the performance.

The North Mississippi Allstars don't try to capture the visceral impact of their live music at high volume. They prefer instead to convey the spacious quality of their three-piece alignment, occasionally augmented by keyboards (played by Cody right at the side of his drums). To fully appreciate the sound, selecting the stereo mix from 5.1 sound is definitely recommended as it affords the breadth and depth of the audio production.

The Dickinson brothers may have learned the art of musical eclectics from their father—who produced Ry Cooder and Stones as well as the punky Replacements and power popsters Big Star—but taking the lessons isn't always the same as putting those lessons to work. So while Keep on Marchin' may not be innovative or especially comprehensive as a DVD package, its concert portion nevertheless accurately reflects how unique a band is The North Mississippi Allstars: by the conclusion of the well-paced two hours, the trio has offered homage to Hendrix, hip-hop and gospel music in a way that reaffirms the continuity of their style instead of undercutting it.

Tracks: Mississippi Boll Weevil; Run On; Teasin' Brown; Hurry Up Sunrise; Mean Ol' Wind Died Down; Bang Bang Lulu; Shake 'Em on Down; Goin' Down South; Ship; Moonshine; Georgia Women/Po Black Maddie/Skinny Woman; Psychedelic Sex Machine; No Mo'; Stompin' My Foot; Write Me a Few Little Lines; Po' Boy (Long Ways from Home); Snake Drive; Horseshoe; Freedom Highway

Personnel: Luther Dickinson: guitars, vocals, drums; Cody Dickinson: drums, keyboards, electric washboard; Chris Chew: bass and vocals.

Production Notes: Directed by Johnny Reid. Format: Color, DVD-Video, NTSC; Language: English; Region: All Regions; Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1; Number of discs: 1; Approximate running time 117 minutes; Aspect ratio: 16:9 (Full Screen); 5.1 Audio and Stereo Mixes. Bonus Features: Interviews; Discography; DVD trailer.

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