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North Mississippi Allstars: 51 Phantom

The North Mississippi Allstars are a trio of grungy 20-somethings from the Mississippi hill country who are bringing a raw-punk aesthetic to an age-old blues tradition. These Allstars have fashioned a sound that is heavier, nastier and more menacing than anything their blues-rock predecessors came up with in decades past. It’s a sound that is more heavily influenced by the raggedy, raucous approach of Fat Possum juke-joint bluesmen like Junior Kimbrough, T-Model Ford and Paul “Wine” Jones than the slicker, tighter style of Chicago’s post-World War II blues giants, while simultaneously being inspired by the roughhouse tactics of the edgy Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. The Allstars unveiled its regional hill-country sound on 2000’s Shake Hands With Shorty. The band’s sophomore effort, 51 Phantom (Tone-Cool 1182; 43:30), contains the same references to the Fat Possum juke-joint crew along with nods to the Allman Brothers, the Grateful Dead and ZZ Top. “Snakes in my Bushes” continues a strain of heavy-duty synth-pop-blues pioneered by ZZ Top, while the title track is a snarling slide-guitar rocker akin to Elmore James jamming with Led Zeppelin. “Sugartown” sounds like that perfect blend of blues and rock that Johnny Winter achieved on his self-titled 1969 debut and “Lord Have Mercy” recalls the heavy funk that Jimi Hendrix got into during his Band of Gypsys phase. The buoyant “Storm” is a direct nod to the Grateful Dead. Dickinson references Dickey Betts’ signature licks on the Allman Brothers-esque “Ship,” while the two ballads, “Leavin'” and “Up Over Yonder,” are surprisingly sweet compared to more menacing fare like the impossibly heavy, fuzz-inflected “Mud” and “Sugartown.” With their defiant edge and raw abandon, the North Mississippi All-Stars may get over well with rock crowds but their connection to the blues is undeniable.

Originally Published