For those who have followed the career of the North Mississippi Allstars, part of the excitement has been the many iterations of the lineup over the years. With brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson at the core on guitar and drums, respectively, the rest of the band has rarely stayed for more than a few tours. This has allowed the brothers to grow their sound while still including the same classic Hill Country Blues songs into every show. With their new album Set Sail (REVIEW) recently released, the Dickinson brothers seized the opportunity to once again revamp their lineup with the addition of singer Lamar Williams, JR. and bassist Jesse Williams. On Friday, February 11th, the quartet let their own sails fly at the Aladdin Theater in Portland, Oregon.
The presence of the newcomers would be felt right from the opening tune “Sitting On Top Of The World,” with Williams laying down a thick bass line, only to be followed up by the down and dirty blues number “Mean Old World” that showcased Lamar Williams, JR’s soulful vocals alongside Luther Dickinson’s slide guitar and Cody Dickinson’s shuffling beat. The Dickinson brothers would remain the stars of the show throughout the set, with Luther stepping in on solos during nearly every song. He has never been afraid to stretch out the jams, easily ranking as one of the most consistently exciting guitarists. Highlights would include teasing the Allman Brothers and radiating sunshine through his ax on the druggy “Up and Rolling,” taking off on a soaring solo on “Ship,” busting out psych-rock shredding on “I’d Love to Be a Hippy,” and unleashing a dazzling mix of slide and regular soloing on the lively R.L. Burnside classic “Skinny Woman.”
Though perhaps a bit sidelined in favor of longer jams, Lamar Williams, JR would shine on vocals whenever he stepped in, from harmonizing with Luther on the gospel-tinged groover “Set Sail,” the Dr. John vibes of “Bumpin,’” to the Southern blues vocal group styling of “Back Back Train” complete with Luther laying down train tones on his guitar. Mostly though, the members of the band seemed to be having a ton of fun onstage, whether it was Luther and Williams facing off with coffee can guitars on “Rollin’ and Tumblin,’” Cody delighting the audience with an extended drum solo, or the silly lyrics and Meters-esque funk on “Juicy Juice.”
Playing just over two hours, the North Mississippi Allstars would tap into their usual mix of Hill Country blues favorites alongside their own impressively large catalogue of songs, including a handful from Set Sail. Though the Dickinson brothers have been chugging along for over twenty years at this point, it was clear in Portland that they are still energized to perform and never get tired of spreading the gospel of the music they grew up with. It helps to mix things up from time to time, and the addition of a second vocalist as well as an in-the-pocket bassist proved to be a fine choice for the band and one that left the crowd in Portland smiling throughout their energetic set of jubilant blues-rock.