Funky strains and less Southern Rock with latest line-up.
A band that has lasted twenty-five years, produced a dozen albums and survived a string of line-up changes must be doing something right. On the latest album ‘Set Sail‘ from the Dickinson Brothers’ North Mississippi Allstars the band now consists of Luther Dickinson on guitar and vocals and Cody Dickinson on drums with new bass player Jesse Williams, an additional vocalist in the form of Lamar Williams, Jr and on one song – as additional guest vocalist – the veritable STAX legend that is William Bell. This version of the North Mississippi Allstars perhaps sees a downplaying of blistering guitar and an upping of the gospel backing vocals and a touch more funky rhythm and blues stylings and a touch less Southern Rock and blues-rock in the overall mix. There’s also a touch of self-referencing on songs such as ‘Authentic‘ which plays on the second-generation musicians nature of the band, and also holds out a hand to a next generation coming up “now I’m nearly as old as the old timers were then time to befriend the young players and do it again” whilst also making an appeal for a more general cross-generational coming together in a spirit of unity “we treat our folks respectfully in our community / we don’t want anybody to be hurt or mistreated / And we don’t need to see the guns in the streets.”
And where several songs – the title track and the song of disowned family ties ‘Outside‘ – touch on social issues, there’s an equal focus on steamier grooves, ‘Bumpin’‘ being a good example of the latter. Over a slow as molasses groove, shot through with steam heat, there are lyrics – sung dark and sleazy – which barely touch upon the euphemistic: “making love nice and easy / Oh Baby you bump and bumping so hard you’re making me believe.” William Bell’s contribution ‘Never Want To Be Kissed‘ takes a more classical rhythm and blues approach to romance, with a suitable lyrical twist to explain the title “We hugged and kissed and I saw the tears in her eyes / It was the kiss of goodbye / And I never want to be kissed like that again.” Punctuated by shining brass and floating on strings it’s a real pleaser of a song. The bass heavy jazz-funk moves of ‘Juicy Juice‘ are perhaps a step too far from the band’s template, it’s a song that’s hard to take seriously with it’s “hanging with my home girl / … / she’s a stone cold fox / … / we’re drinking that juicy juice.‘ Goodness only knows what the running tap sound effect at the song’s conclusion is meant to represent. ‘Rabbit Foot‘ which follows on puts the album back on a more steady tack – particularly when the guitar becomes the main focus giving ‘Rabbit Foot‘ a somewhat late-Seventies Zappa-esque vibe.
There is a feel, in places, of that common seventies phenomena of a band not sure of its next direction, trying out a variety of new styles that more or less fit but overall don’t quite hit the mark. The William Bell contribution is the highlight of the album, and since it see’s the Allstars acting very much as a backing band in a well defined style that’s probably not what it should be.