North Mississippi Allstars

Up and Rolling

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The North Mississippi Allstars bring it all back home on Up and Rolling, the band's debut offering for New West. Cody and Luther Dickinson (scions of the late producer Jim Dickinson) may have taken their brand of roots rock, dirty-blues crunch, soul, and funk across the globe many times, but they’ve never forgotten their roots in Mississippi's Hill Country mud. In 1996, Texas photographer Wyatt McSpadden visited the Dickinsons and took pictures of local hill country musicians Otha Turner, Junior Kimbrough, R.L. Burnside, and others, along with their musical families. All the musicians and their kin played together at Kimbrough's juke joint. Most if not all of the offspring are or have been NMA collaborators through the decades. (Singer and fife player Sharde Thomas, Otha's granddaughter, continues to lead grandad's Rising Star Fife & Drum Ensemble.) The photos went undiscovered for some 20 years, and they are what inspired this "soundtrack." The band enlisted friends for a wonderfully unruly celebration of blood, land, and musical ties.

Jason Isbell sings lead and plays guitar on a wooly read of Little Walter Jacobs' "Mean Old World" with Duane Betts adding his own axe. Mavis Staples fronts NMA on a bubbling, funky take of her own family's "What You Gonna Do" (written by Pops Staples) with Rev. Charles Hodges on Hammond B-3, and a vocal chorus courtesy of Tierinii and Tikyra Jackson. Cedric Burnside sings and plays on his uncle R.L.'s crunchy blues choogler "Out on the Road" and a countrified version of Thomas A. Dorsey's gospel standard "Take My Hand Precious Lord." NMA -- Luther and Cody on guitar and drums, respectively, Thomas on vocals and fife, Carl Dufrene on bass, and Sharisse Norman on vocals -- are a well-seasoned outfit; the quintet and most of their guests have been playing together in various capacities for most of their lives. "Call That Gone" is a filthy, squalling, bottleneck-guitar blues driven by rolling tom-toms with souled-out vocals from Luther and Thomas, her fife trading licks with his guitar. The title track is a summery country-blues framed by Cody's Wurlitzer and sung in three-part harmony. "Peaches" is lusty, groove-and-grind blues funk with Thomas and Luther exchanging sung lines with real heat. "Lonesome in My Home" is low-down trance-dance blues penned by Kimbrough. NMA's read is led by Garry Burnside's roiling bassline with killer guitar by Luther that will make you shiver. So will the punchy, funky "Bump That Mother," with Roosevelt Collier's wily steel guitar and Cody's breaking snare march. "Living Free" is good-time, back porch soul with snaky slide guitar, Wurlitzer organ, and sweeping vocals by Norman and Thomas. "Otha's Bye Bye Baby," with long-ago-demo'ed vocals by the man himself, is paired with Luther's guitar, which adds swamp mud and murk to bring the album full circle. Up and Rolling clears away decades of cobwebs, dust, and wisteria vines from the doorway to the past: It's a family reunion offering that looks to the Hill Country's history and mystery for both its inspiration from the past and guidance to its present.

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