Luther Dickinson / David Hidalgo / Mato Nanji

3 Skulls and the Truth

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Luther Dickinson has been a busy man in 2012. This is the fourth recording he's either fronted or been a prime collaborator in during the calendar year. In May he released his own solo offering, Hambone's Meditations, a second offering with the South Memphis String Band, and Go On Now, You Can't Stay Here by his new band the Wandering on the same day. 3 Skulls and the Truth, with Los Lobos' David Hidalgo and Indigenous founder and lead guitarist Mato Nanji, will be the one that most appeals to the wild, raucous sounds of Dickinson's prime unit, the North Mississippi Allstars. These three lead guitar players, backed by the rhythm section of drummer Jeff Martin and bassist Steve Evans, lay down 12 raw blues-based rock tunes. Produced by Mike Varney, 3 Skulls and the Truth is a hot mess. The sound is raw nasty, loose, and loud; it seems to draw inspiration from the nasty boogie of the early '70s -- particularly the one evangelized by ZZ Top. The material from Varney, Nanji, and Dickinson was all written for this date. The guitarists freely interact, strut their stuff, and keep things tight. This trio is made up of axe monsters; they understand roots rock as a dynamic -- not a revivalist -- force, where it meets the blues. The tunes are not merely jams; they're well-constructed songs with bridges, clever lyrics, and loads of six-string heat. Check the primitive blues stomp of "Have My Way with You," which opens the date. Dickinson's vocal blues moan, a stomping foot, and two guitars move back and forth before the band kicks in and the track becomes what might have been an outtake from Tres Hombres. "All I Know," with its swaggering roots boogie, is topped by soulful vocals by Nanji and Hidalgo, punctuated by two punchy guitars and underscored by Dickinson's slide. On "The Worldly and the Divine," blues, hard rock, and tripped-out Hendrixian psych seamlessly intertwine as the track nearly sprawls out of control. "The Truth Ain't What It Seems" charges out of the gate before winding itself in a labyrinth with a skittering set of funky breaks by Martin that somehow anchors the frontline riff and changes. There's a funky undertone that gets obliterated by the wailing exchange of fills by the principals. Likewise, closer "Natural Comb," a slow, churning blues, allows the guitarists not merely solos, but the ability to inform the tune's melody with all manner of fills. The humorous lyric keeps it all grounded. 3 Skulls and the Truth, which may be the rock party album of the year, proves that the blues and boogie are still very much alive as creative endeavors, and hopefully asserts that that this trio of slingers will team up again -- and soon.

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