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Published: 2012/11/28
by Brian Robbins

David Hidalgo/Mato Nanji/Luther Dickinson
3 Skulls And The Truth

Blues Bureau International

It was a Jimi thang, born under a really so-bad-it’s-good sign.

David Hidalgo (Los Lobos), Mato Nanji (Indigenous), and Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars) first crossed musical paths on the Experience Hendrix tour while paying six-string homage to the master. Sensing that there might be much more to mine from their musical union, the three went into the studio after their stint on the Experience tour, armed with a dozen original tunes and the rhythm machine of bassist Steve Evans and drummer Jeff Martin to back them up. The result is 3 Skulls And The Truth : a wicked mix of total picking porn for guitarheads and well-crafted blues rock that simply makes you want to move.

Fittingly, the Hendrix vibe is woven throughout the album: “Make It Right” features a driving “Dolly Dagger”-style riff powering the verses while “Cold As Hell” is a vapory Jimi drift with the three guitars tag-teaming. (Hidalgo’s vicious guitar squall segues into a through-the-funnel-backwards workout by Nanji which turns inside-out and becomes Dickinson playing searing 2-ton-bee-sting slide.) “I’m A Fool” is a neat blend of straight-up blues infused with some snaky Middle-Eastern-flavored guitar by Dickinson; and “Natural Comb” is six-minutes-plus of cosmic-Johnny-Cockaroo-Jimi-meets-Muddy-and-blows-the-roof-off-the-sky blues.

The bounce of “Truth Ain’t What It Seems” feels like Little Feat at their most playful and raunchy; Dickinson’s slide guitar against Nanji and Hidalgo’s crunchy rhythms make “All I Know” sound like something from the Mick Taylor-era Stones; and “Woke Up Alone” does a psychedelic bandy-legged stroll down the sidewalk, proud as a peacock and ten times more colorful.

Though Nanji may not be as well-known to some as Hidalgo or Dickinson, he proves himself to be their musical peer on 3 Skulls And The Truth both on guitar and in the vocal department. (At times it would be hard to differentiate his voice from Hidalgo without the liner notes.) All three are amazing pickers, of course – and the album’s blues-based, no-holds-barred setting is the ideal foundation for them to simply let fly. Martin and Evans are a good match for the trio, whether it’s grinding out a dark crawl (“The Worldly And The Divine”), a funky stomp (“Mississippi Clean”), or a cool stutter (“Still Looking”). And producer Mike Varney did a magnificent job of capturing savage amounts of powerful sound without taming the piss and vinegar out of it.

It’s rare that this much talent is found in one spot without a trace of ego or attitude in sight. These guys came to play; 3 Skulls And The Truth is the proof.

Have mercy.

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