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TBTS Reviews: North Mississippi Allstars – Keys To The Kingdom

February 6, 2011

Gritty, bluesy and downright brimming with attitude, Keys to the Kingdom (Songs of the South) is as good as, if not better than, anything the North Mississippi Allstars have put out. A sonically vibrant band in concert, it has been difficult for them to reproduce that same kind of energy in the studio. Those essential elements were not lost this time, as they come together around a spiritual focal point.

After a break for the Dickinson brothers (Cody with the Hill Country Review and Luther a stint with the Black Crowes) the North Mississippi Allstars reformed with bassist Chris Chew and a new perspective, as their father Jim Dickinson had recently passed and Luther was welcoming a daughter. The timing was integral in helping create the content and vibe of Kingdom. During the interim between death and birth, movement, joy and the celebration of life reigned over the Dickinson household. It was decided positive emotions would be the dominant force and that sorrow, anguish and despair would take a back seat to all the good that had come from Jim’s influence. The production credit reads “Produced for Jim Dickinson.”

Taking on a Grateful Dead like quality on some tracks, while heading toward heavy dixie blues on others, Kingdom still maintains a strong unified feel, never straying far from the intended thoughts and feelings of its creators. The Allstars recruited some close family friends to contribute, and by doing so, those chosen pay their respects. Mavis Staples lends her classic blues voice to “The Meeting.” Ry Cooder plays guitar on “Ain’t No Grave.” Jack Ashford lent his legendary Motown tambourine to multiple tracks. Luther’s time in the Black Crowes served him well, and has sharpened his six string skills to a razor edge. That edge can be felt throughout Kingdom. The Allstars are as tight and energetic as ever, displaying a renewed vitality “almost like starting over “as drummer Cody Dickinson put it.

I don’t know if this will be a breakthrough album or not for the North Mississippi Allstars. This is a band that has kept just under the radar for over a decade, and it would seem these guys are just fine with that. What I do know is that Keys To The Kingdom is a great record. If you happen to notice you are running low on foot stompin’ southern blues rock, pick this one up. It’ll do you right.

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