The North Mississippi Allstars decided to play a very unique acoustic tour. It wasn't the usual Mississippi foot stomping rockin' blues, but a mellow country blues that told a story and a history about a time and place much different from here and now. I saw the March 23rd show at the World Café Live in Philadelphia. By the time you read this review, the Allstars will be finished their small acoustic tour and will be preparing for a long summer of touring their usual way.
Lucas Reynolds was the opener of this show, and he started off with a tune called "Across the Great Divide," which included Luther Dickinson on guitar. Then, Chris Chew came out to join them on bass for their next song which sounded a little too similar to "Shake 'Em On Down," a North Mississippi Allstars song. When the two N. Mississippi Allstars left the stage, the Reynolds' show went down hill. He did a Coldplay cover followed by a lot of really bad songs. I don't usually like to bash musicians, but this guy was trying way too hard. He looked a little too much like Luther, and he just seemed a little out of place. He also had a different look for nearly every song (glasses then no glasses, hat then no hat etc.). To his defense, I listened to some of his studio music, and it was much better than his live performance.
The Allstars then came out with an intro followed by the 1900 traditional "Ragged But Right." The next song was a slow "Mean Old World," by Little Walter, but made famous by Eric Clapton. The Robert Johnson classic "From Four Till Late," featured Cody Dickinson, usually the drummer and percussionist, on keyboard. Then came the familiar R. L. Burnside cover "Goin' Down South," that the boys play so well. Luther and Cody Dickinson are highly influenced by the music of R.L. Burnside, Jr. Kimbrough, and Otha Turner because of growing up in a modern blues family in Hernando, MS. In addition, having a musician/producer father like Jim Dickinson didn't hurt the boy's chances of feeling the spirit of the southern country blues either. Cody played the washboard for on "Goin' Down South," which is always my favorite part of the show. "Trouble, I've Had It All My Days," the Mississippi John Hurt song, calmed the crowd again. The first song of their own came next when they played "Deep Blue Sea," from Electric Blue Watermelon.
Ry Cooder's "On a Monday," was the last song before Luther talked to the crowd a bit about the tour. They felt honored to be playing a lot of their favorite songs. Luther also was proud to say that, "It is the first time that we ever had two sold out shows in one day," describing the earlier WXPN free at noon show and the night show both held at the World Café Live. He gave Philadelphia a lot of props for the accomplishment, and then smoothed into "Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor," into "If You're a Viper," while giving credit to Mississippi John Hurt and Doc Watson. Chris Chew, the big and talented bass player, sang "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love," which the crowd applauded with glee. Chew is one of the happiest people one can ever see on stage. He sits in his chair and smiles from ear to ear throughout the show every time I see him.
The song "Conan," from the Polaris album came next with the deep felt "City of New Orleans." "City of New Orleans" was written by Arlo Guthrie and Luther and Cody's father, Jim Dickinson, who played piano on the song. It was one of the highlights of the night until brother Cody belted out the Ray Charles "Come Back Baby." "I've Got To Find My Baby," Elvis Presley, "Junior," "Shake What Yo' Mama Gave You," Jimbo Mathis, and "Sittin' On the Dock of the Bay," Otis Redding, which all made the crowd alive again. The crowd was swingin' and swayin' with the lyrics of Otis Redding rolling off of Chris Chew's lips. The song that made Redding more famous posthumously was loved by the crowd tonight. Chew admitted to not being able to whistle one of the most famous licks to be whistled in music, and the crowd helped out.
Luther said, "R. L. Burnside is with the angels in heaven," and then played two of his gems, "Georgia Women" and "Po Black Maddie," followed by Sonny Boy Williamson's, "Skinny Woman," and "Hobo's Lullaby," made famous by the Guthries. "Mean Ol' Wind Died Down," an original, ended the set before the lengthy encore closed the night.
The appropriate instrumental spiritual "Goin' Home" which is based on the Second Movement of Dvorak's Symphony #9 ("From the New World") was the first song of the encore. This is a sad song and probably the second most popular funeral song to "Amazing Grace." Then, Lucas Reynolds was brought out to finish the show with the Allstars for "Bang Bang Lulu," and "Goodnight Irene." But, the crowd wanted more, and Luther Dickinson came out himself with his acoustic guitar for "Candyman," the second encore and the end of the show.
Make sure to see these modern blues greats soon!