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Published: 2003/08/28
by Pat Buzby

Polaris – North Mississippi Allstars

ATO/Tone-Cool 0012

Having established themselves as the hardest-edged youngbloods of the new
generation of Southern rock, the North Mississippi Allstars get ambitious on
this third record, mixing in some introspective psychedelic offerings and
even something close to a power ballad featuring Noel Gallagher's vocals
alongside the retooled blues that's attracted their cult.

Does it work? Yes, although hard rockers might prefer the earlier outings:
Cody Dickinson unleashes some drum thunder on the opening "Eyes," but the
blues crop on Polaris tends towards the low-key ("Meet Me in the
City," "Bad Bad Pain"). Fortunately, these guys, now a quartet with Duwayne
(son of R.L.) Burnside joining the (sons of Jim) Dickinson brothers and the
sizable bassist Chris Chew, demonstrate throughout that they know how to put
songs together as well as blasting the 12-bars. Each of these songs offer
memorable guitar hooks and some grabbing contrasts here and there, as when
the acoustic blues of "Conan" switches to a grandiose, keyboard-enhanced
solo section. For this listener, the dreamy psychedelia of "Time For The
Sun To Rise" is as entertaining as the lowdown "Be So Glad" (when the sun
goes down) which follows.

My first instinct was to suggest that these boys had cooked up a
Southern-fried Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but Polaris reminds me
more of a classic-rock chestnut that should be familiar to more folks around
these parts, Spirit's 12 Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus. These boys have
the multiracial edge rather than Spirit's multigenerationalism (although
father Jim offers some production lessons here), but the parallels are in
the way that these 12 songs scoot over a fairly wide musical region despite
the blues base, with an arsenal of musical and production tricks (there's
even Mellotron, rap cameos and that Oasis guy), all deployed without calling
too much attention to the men behind the curtain.

At the end of the last song, a voice says something that sounds like "Now
what?" Good question: the North Mississippi Allstars have the chops and
songwriting skills to keep things going for some time.

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