South Memphis String Band

Old Times There...

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The South Memphis String Band is a supergroup of sorts, consisting of Alvin Youngblood Hart, the North Mississippi Allstars' Luther Dickinson, and the Squirrel Nut Zippers' Jimbo Mathus, and what they're after is a 19th century Southern string band sound, a sound they certainly achieve. They sound like the string band at a decades-ago Saturday night rent party, not so much re-creating that sound as they are continuing it, and it works for the most part. The problem is that by continuing tradition, one can get fenced in by it, turning into a preservationist instead of bumping tradition forward and adding to it, which is what one sometimes wishes these guys would do. It's interesting that the best tracks here are the truly traditional ones, old string and jug band classics like "Feather Bed," "Skillet Good & Greasy," and "Sandy River Belle" and modified blues classics like Charley Patton's "Some of These Days," while the band's original material like "Stonewall, 1863" comes out sounding transparently facsimile-like next to the traditional fare. There are reasons a song survives generations. Yeah, the South Memphis String Band sounds like a band from eight-some decades ago. That's a neat trick, certainly, and they do it very well, but in a way, it's like cloning a long lost species. It's better, perhaps, to engineer something new on an old strain than it is to simply call it back. Traditional songs are made to withstand and even embrace change, and actually tradition demands such DNA alterations. Otherwise things just get frozen in time. Hopefully that isn't what is going to happen to the South Memphis String Band.

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