May 23, 2022

North Mississippi Allstars – ‘Set Sail’ – “It’s a warm, soulful and often funky brew, a dream of what the American South can be at the best”

NEW WEST RECORDS      29th January 2022

North Mississippi Allstars were adopted into the American jam band scene pretty early, despite them not playing fifteen-minute long extemporisations, probably because of their warm and friendly audience and their loving adaptation of traditional American idiom. Drawing on the blues in the same way as icons, The Band, the North Mississippi Allstars have a love of the roots of Americana and make a beautiful job of early-seventies-styled blues-rock, gentle funk and a soupcon of Muscle Shoals soul.

I remember seeing the band fifteen or twenty years ago, in London. Very real and playing with heart, they made an impression. Over a dozen albums later with a slew of live albums on the side, the core is still brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson. Compared to the earlier work, this has a warm, relaxed feel to it that makes it a mid-winter warmer. Guitar work has an interesting, almost conversational, phrasing and makes for an great down-home feel.

They can get a little heart-on-sleeve and the closing ‘Authentic’, with its love and peace message makes this child of the punk era cringe a bit. Equally, despite the gorgeous slide guitar, ‘Bumpin’’ makes me think of Chef from South Park. On the other hand, a soft and gentle piece like ‘Didn’t We Have A Time’ could have felt sloppy, being an end-of-life song, but somehow isn’t. The approach was inspired by Luther Dickinson’s light-bulb moment: “I was able to express my stance on life and love. The fear of having my children grown up and asking me why I didn’t speak up for what I believed in has driven me and helped mature my songwriting and solidify my stance. Having kids made me get my story straight.”

Featuring a half-dozen guest vocals from Lamar Hill Jr and one from William Bell, who has a great blues-soul voice – his ‘Never Want To Be Kissed’ is a Stax slow burner and the album standout. Lamar Hill sings on the title track (a two-parter) and his warm presence is welcome. Other tracks can get a groovy wiggle on – like the “we’re dranking, we’re dranking” hymn to the joy of drinking wine from the box in ‘Juicy Juice’.

It’s a warm, soulful and often funky brew, a dream of what the American South can be at the best.