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Published: 2003/12/29
by Josh Mintz

Tate County Hill Country Blues – North Mississippi Allstars


When the North Mississippi Allstars album Polaris was released this
past fall, it got mixed reviews from the band's fanbase. Most of the
criticism was based around the fact that the band deviated from a proven
method to get more mainstream appeal. Anyone who felt that the Allstars had
"sold out" will be quite pleased with their new release, Tate County Hill
Country Blues. This release has had very little press; at this point it
is only available for order off of their father Jim Dickinson's web site,, and a good bit of their
fanbase probably doesn't know it even exists. They're missing out if they're

Those who purchased Polaris with the anticipation of hearing typical
Allstar blues were undoubtedly disappointed with the more pop-oriented tunes
that make up much of the disc. Tate County brings the band back to
its roots, mainly because the material was actually recorded prior to the
release of their first album. The title says it all: Tate County Hill
Country Blues is exactly what you get with this offering. No pop, no
experimentation, just good-old, down-home blues. From start to finish, the
listener gets the feeling that he's sitting on the porch of the house
depicted on the cover of the album, with brothers Luther (guitar) and Cody
(drums) Dickinson and bassist Chris Chew, on a lazy Sunday evening as the
sun sets. There are even crickets chirping between tracks, adding to the

The disc is entirely cover songs, ranging from tunes by R.L. Burnside (whose
son, Duwayne, is in the current Allstars lineup, but does not appear on the
disc) to Mississippi Fred McDowell. The disc opens with "Coal Black
Mattie," which appeared on their first release, 1999's Shake Hands With
Shorty, under the name "Po Black Maddie." This version is a stripped
down, slower take, laced with the late Otha Turner's cane fife. The next
track is a tune that has been circulating via their live recordings for
years under the name "Let My Baby Ride," but makes its first appearance on
an official release as "Snake Drive." Other highlights on the album include
the Allstars' seven-plus minute instrumental "Shimmy She Wobble," an Otha
Turner tune. "Im In Jail" features a great backbeat by Cody, telling the
story of a man in jail (not for the first time) on Christmas, pleading for
someone to bring him a present. It's a hand-clapping, foot-stomping number
that truly evokes what the Mississippi blues are all about. Showing their
versatility as a band, Luther picks up the mandolin for "Used To Be," Cody's
electric washboard makes an appearance, and patriarch Jim Dickinson shows up
from time to time on the organ.

In terms of classification, the blues has many flavors. You have Memphis
blues, ala B.B. King; you have Chicago blues with Buddy Guy; even Texas
blues with players like Stevie Ray Vaughan. When all is said and done,
although they're not the pioneers, the North Mississippi Allstars will
undoubtedly be one of the groups that come to mind when Mississippi blues
are discussed. They're truly throwbacks to an earlier time, and Tate
County Hill Country Blues is a fine offering from the band, paying
homage to the masters of their genre.

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