North Mississippi Allstars, 51 Phantom

Andria Lisle

By Andria Lisle

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
Past and present collide in this stellar blues combo

A vast departure from the easygoing blues jams of the Allstars '2000 debut, Shake Hands with Shorty, 51 Phantom finds bassist Chris Chew joining brothers Luther (guitar) and Cody (drums) Dickinson's gravelly voices with his smooth, gospel-derived delivery. Swapping lines and melodies, the three men showcase their vocal interplay in both the Staple Singers '"Freedom Highway" (often featured in the group's live sets) and the original spiritual jam "Ship." Although they still play those hill country sounds ("Circle In The Sky," complete with fife riff), the Allstars are more than mere blues interpreters, emphasizing their Mississippi roots while staking their place in the modern world. The glorious, autobiographical "Mud" recalls the gothic, Brit-based blues of Nick Cave and P.J. Harvey, and the title track updates "The Ballad of Thunder Road" to a 21st-century electric boogie style. While some fans may balk, the transformation of the group from power blues trio to full-on modern rock band can only be construed as progress.