Being the ambassadors of hill country blues is something the North Mississippi All-Stars pull off with ease. Drummer Cody Dickinson, bassist Chris Chew and guitarist Luther Dickinson have lived a life surrounded by the families of Otha Turner and R.L. Burnside. Blues barbeque and moonshine parties have seen these family members interacting, partying and jamming in backwoods juke joints creating a sound as fresh as bourbon and strong enough as whiskey white lightning. Growing up in Mississippi hill country, these kids had the advantages of immersing themselves in a heritage bred from the cotton fields of which it came.
If this isn't believable, then the dvd Keep On Marchin recorded in Burlington, Vermont's Higher Ground will attest to the All-Stars staying power. Judging by the camera shots, the majority of the crowd seems to be young college kids with a few middle-aged faces looking to regain their youth. For this band, it's all about bringing the atmosphere of these backwoods juke joints to the mainstream and having a party.
In doing this the All-Stars have found themselves a loyal following. Working endlessly on the road for years has helped them build a grassroots following without having to rely on videos or other corporate marketing tools. They are cut from the same cloth as the Allmans and Black Crowes: Ever changing setlists, long jams, tye-dyed youngsters and a contempt for playing the game.
The major problems with musical improvisation is in stretching songs can lead to endless noodling. But the Allstars have jamming down to a science. Dickinson's lead guitar intro into "Ship" blends the Allman's country and psychedelia. The Jack Daniels flavored "Write Me A Few Lines" slithers and grooves like a rattlesnake around a pauper's graveyard. The All-Stars take Pop Staple's "Freedom Highway" and turn it into a hypnotic swamp rock mantra.
Dickinson's cigarette parched vocals may be off the beaten path and don't always parallel well to the music. But it's overlooked with the tight grooves set down by his brother Cody and bassist Chew. Dedicating the show to blues patriarch R.L. Burnside, "Po Black Maddie" from their debut album brings the Ole Dixie Lady to the North. Cody Dickinson's electric washboard solo on "Psychedelic Sex Machine" has got to be the unique point of the evening. The camera shots indicate people getting into it as he comps the board to create a plethora of sounds that play with braincells of midnight tokers.
The dvd also contains bonus features in the form of interviews with all three members discussing their musical upbringing. A trailer is featured for another All-Stars dvd that will be a documentary.
If the All-Stars are making youngsters research the Fat Possum catalog that was their inspiration in the first place, then the memories of its forebears are not lost for the ages.