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Electric Blue Watermelon – North Mississippi Allstars

ATO Records 026

For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out The Bad Plus.

Which is to say, I couldn’t figure out what I thought about the uber-hyped trio of jazzers from the Midwest who made their name playing rock covers. Most people I knew liked them. Most magazines I read hated them. Everyone was talking about them.

So I checked out Give. Didn’t dig it. Then I accidentally caught them at Bonnaroo for a few songs. Dug it. And I dug their live record.

But it was an awkward kind of digging. It wasn’t so much that I liked what I heard, as much as I didn’t dislike it. I was a ball of confusion.

Until I understood everything this weekend, in Boston. I had finally sat through a full Bad Plus performance and, as I rose from my seat, it all made sense. They were awesome.

But I hadn’t liked it. Which is fine, I suppose. Sometimes, you’ve got to give it up for a band, even if they ain’t your cup. The Baddies had tight tunes, told funny jokes, and worked their asses off. But they’re not for me.

Which is how I feel about the North Mississippi Allstars. They rock, you know? But I don’t get it.

And I couldn’t dig on their new record, Electric Blue Watermelon. It’s nothing new to me; as far as I can tell, it sounds like every other bluesy, southern rock record.

Except for the rap vocals that pop up a couple of times. That’s new. At the end of “Stompin’ My Foot,” for instance, someone raps “Take it home / put some meat on the bone / gonna get my freak on / next day I’m gone” over and over again. Why that belongs on this record, I’m not sure.

That said, there are some nice moments on Watermelon. As the record winds down, we find ourselves waist deep in history and it feels a lot more natural than getting our freak on. The traditional “Bang Bang Lulu” is given an energetic reading and Odetta’s “Deep Blue Sea,” featuring some damn soulful slide work from Luther Dickinson that might be the highlight of the album. When the Allstars venture into cover country, it’s all good.

It’s all good, too, when Lucinda Williams sings on a few tracks, and Robert Randolph shreds on one. But this album is bland, and lacking to me. Maybe I don’t get it.

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