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Boulderado: Live at the Fox 2008 – North Mississippi AllStars

Songs of the South

Each time I review an album it becomes a consistent process of a casual listen followed by several more serious spins to gain some added depth into the artist’s creative process. Sometimes, there’s an immediate impact of aural joy that blossoms further. On other occasions a tug of war occurs in my synapses as they weigh out the swinging pendulum of positives versus negatives. The numerous plays give the album a chance to finally bear out its worth or firm up my original thoughts.

In the case of the North Mississippi Allstars’ Boulderado: Live at the Fox 2008 I remain torn by the fiery storm the blues trio stir up versus my dissatisfaction with guitarist Luther Dickinson’s vocals. Throughout much of Boulderado he sounds as if the days on the road supporting the group’s album Hernando have caught up with him, as if the breathless tone of Randy Newman fronting an electric blues outfit has overcome him.

It’s most apparent on “Someday Baby,” “Bang, Bang Lulu” and “Stray Cat Blues.” “Soldier” and “Keep the Devil Down” feed off of the rough and tumble quality. (Nothing but praise for bassist Chris Chew who gets to shine on the classic covers “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” and “Some Kind of Wonderful.”) I decided to pop over to YouTube to see if it was just me being extra harsh, and found several clips where "Shake (Yo Mama)” comes off better, especially vocally, than this representation.

This proves disappointing because the musicianship displayed by Luther, his brother Cody and Chew merit the growing adulation that this band receives. Listening to Luther play, it’s easy to understand why the Black Crowes wanted to bring him on board. But overall, what the members do best is ingest decades of blues material and scores of blues artists in order to come up with an interpretation that’s modern, sincere and as unique as possible in the familiar guitar-bass-drums configuration. In the case of Boulderado it spans the past (Otha Turner, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Junior Kimbrough, R.L. Burnside, Rolling Stones) to the present (Alvin Youngblood Hart, Jim Mathus, originals) with several songs maintaining that traditional method of offering a nod to old blues numbers (“Shake (Yo Mama)” being a descendent of “Shake That Thing” and “Shake It Baby” and “In My Time of Dyin’” falling from the tree of the Blind Willie Johnson original.) So, while their influences can be obvious, the threesome doesn’t stray from an energized in-your-face approach a steady groove from NMAS’s rhythm section sets Luther up to shine like a bright diamond. I hear that musical connection throughout the album. And it particularly works in total on “Keep the Devil Down” and “JR>All Night>Lord Have Mercy>Stay All Night.” But, sadly, it’s just not enough to fully sustain me.

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