Tag Archives: Jason Isbell

At the Beach with the Avett Brothers

At The Beach – The Avett Brothers (and friends)
Hard Rock Hotel, Riviera Maya, Mexico
February 09-12, 2017
Writer/Photographer: Josh Mintz

It was almost a cliche. Taking the stage on the very first night of their At The Beach festival in Mexico, the Avett Brothers kicked off their headlining set with “At The Beach.”

And, it was perfect. Continue reading At the Beach with the Avett Brothers

Jason Isbell: Something More Than Free

The time for talking about how much Jason Isbell has changed since his Drive-By Truckers days is long past. Yes, gone are the whiskey-soaked, carousals from his time in the seminal Southern band.  Also in the past is the triumphant story of his hard-won sobriety and newfound life as a successful solo artist.

In their place, a shelf-full of all the hardware the 2014 Americana Music Awards had to offer, in addition to numerous critical accolades and a new life as happy family man. Also: a new album called Something More Than Free.

His 2013 breakout album Southeastern set the bar extremely high, and the follow-up, Something More Than Free, manages to reach, and perhaps hurdle, it.

Thematically, the album is a bit lighter than its predecessor, but it shares a tonal similarity. Isbell has hit a comfortable creative stride that gives the impression he and his listeners are in the midst of a fertile stage of artistic output akin to Neil Young’s early 1970s oeuvre.

Throughout Something More Than Free, Isbell constructs a now-trademark rustic realm, a world inhabited by people yearning, searching and hoping for something better, and a few who think they have it figured out. These are hardscrabble folks living with regrets and seeking redemption.

He creates such vividly imagined characters that at the conclusion of nearly every track, you feel like you’ve just finished a novel or movie, or stepped out of someone else’s dream. These characters—the guy who feels fortunate to have lost three fingers in an accident so he could get a court settlement (“The Life You Chose”), the teenage parents who can’t tell the difference between the “sacred and profane” (“Children of Children”), the guy who just wants to leave town because there’s “nothing here that can’t be left behind” (“Speed Trap Town”) and others—are instant intimates. Isbell’s craft allows these characters to come to life and for you to step into it.

Isbell is a singular voice, but it’s hard not to hear his forbearers living through him. Hints of Warren Zevon’s “Mutineer” (a song he’s performed live) live inside of “Flagship” in more ways that one.  John Prine’s wit suffuses “If It Takes A Lifetime.” And so on. Neil Young’s work informs here, his contemporary Ryan Adams there.

Sonically, Isbell and his band, including wife Amanda Shires on fiddle, are in a comfortable zone, shifting easily from melancholic ruminations to rowdy rockers and country swing.

“Children of Children,” with a string section that floats eerily over Isbell’s slide guitar and soaring solo, is one of many standout tracks on Something More Than Free.  Elsewhere, he adopts old-time, bluegrass-tinged country stomp with “If It Takes a Lifetime” and raunchy rock with “Palmetto Rose.” Throughout, his melodies seem like they’ve been there forever, pulled from the heavens by his pen.

Something More Than Free is continuation of the songwriting maturity found on Southeastern, so much so that Isbell might be wise to make some room on that shelf.


Something More Than Free will be released July 17 on Southeastern Records. 

A Bigger Tent: Jams & Mississippians Make A Mark at Americana Fest

Americana Music Festival & Conference Award Show - Show, Audience & Backstage
Valerie June appeared at the Americana Music Association Awards show. Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty images

For the most well attended event in it’s 13-year history last week in Nashville, the Americana Music Association’s Conference and Festival succeeded in large part due to the broadening of its tent, and a sense of inclusivity that has eluded the organization and its events in the past.

When it began, the Americana Music Association sought to codify a style of roots and country music that was thriving outside of the Nashville mainstream of manufactured pop acts. It was an attempt by the music industry to redefine alt-country (whatever that is) and roots music under one umbrella. Under their auspices, they created a new radio chart, and a new but necessarily vague genre that would help artists reach their audiences via radio play, publicity and record sales. An industry event from the get-go.

But over the past 13 years, the effort has at times seemed insular—the same artists, most of them coming from the same sincere songwriting school of the folk music world, or from what was then called alt-country, populating the showcases and awards ceremony year after year. A little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n roll, with a dash of bluegrass and a healthy dose of folk. That approach eschewed otherwise valid musical forms that fit their mission statement. Blues, for example, was relegated to one or two artists, save for the blues elements that seeped into everyone’s music. Gospel was unheard of. And in the land of the tightly constructed and serious as hell three-minute songs, the word “jam” was virtually verboten.

But this year, the event kicked off with Leftover Salmon performing at the Ryman Auditorium with a slew of guests on hand to celebrate the anniversary of their Nashville Sessions recording, which came out in 1999. That record featured a who’s who of Nashville talent who joined in to celebrate that band’s country and bluegrass roots— the same roots that they synthesized into their self-styled “Poly-Ethnic Cajun Slamgrass” style. Poly-ethnic Cajun Slamgrass? As perpetual awards show host Jim Lauderdale would say, “Now that’s Americana!”

So it was fitting that this band, a mainstay of the jamband circuit since it was a thing, would help to establish the inclusivity of the weekend. On stage with them, there was Taj Mahal bringing the house down.  There was mandolin wizard Sam Bush, blazing and leading a trio of mandolin players. There was former Little Feat keyboardist and new band member Bill Payne. There was Widespread Panic’s lead singer John Bell belting out “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” Other guests ranged from bluegrass legends like Del McCoury to jamband godfather Col. Bruce Hampton.

This collaborative affair set the tone for the awards show the following night, and for the next five nights of artist showcases in different music clubs around town. The tent was all of a sudden bigger.

Despite the sometimes narrow atmosphere, the Americana tent has been an ever expanding one that ebbs and flows to bring in, and sometimes shun, certain artists. It’s a fluid term, not a strict genre.

The Leftover Salmon example exuded into the rest of the weekend, with the event showcasing artists who represent the jammier side of the equation and also expanded the “membership” by parading more musicians coming from outside of the realms of folk and country music to include more blues, gospel, and latino music.

It helped that Ry Cooder, who has long been a champion of varied forms of Americana music and what could come to be known as world music, was a part of the stellar house band that also included Buddy Miller and Don Was.

Americana Music Festival & Conference Award Show - Show, Audience & Backstage
Taj Mahal. Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images

What also helped was the inclusion of two lifetime achievement award winners. With renowned accordionist Flaco Jimenez the association rightly brought Latin styles like tejano and conjunto into the fold. Taj Mahal provided the most rousing song of the night, showing that his lifetime of blending blues with forms from around the world belongs in the Americana tent. Given this broader palette, tunes like “Coal Miner’s Daughter” performed by the Loretta Lynn were afforded even more gravity, a stronger pillar due to the additional support whereas it might have been just “old Nashville” in another setting.

Other guests that night included Jackson Browne, Robert Plant singing along with Patty Griffin, soul sounds from St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Sturgill Simpson bringing his psychedelic infused update of outlaw country music to the fore, Valerie June and her bluesy twang, and of course Jason Isbell, who swept the awards by winning best song, best album and best artist of the year.

Part of the insular nature of the event in the past has been its tendency to focus on the Nashville and Austin contingent. That’s natural, because those two locales, each of which loves to claim the “music city” title, are home to the most of the industry players who make up the organization—the record companies, publicists, managers, and yes, a lot of the artists.

This year, though, it didn’t seem so polarizing. Musicians from Mississippi, in particular, made a major impact.

Meridian, Miss. native Jimmie Rodgers was honored at the awards ceremony with the President’s award, presented by Philadelphia, Miss. native Marty Stuart. Stuart proudly showed off a lantern that had once belonged to Rodgers.  Tupelo, Miss. native Paul Thorn gave an impassioned speech lauding Mississippi artists that same night.

The next night featured a showcase entirely dedicated to Mississippi artists. Sharde Thomas and the Rising Star Fife & Drum Band showed that ancient grooves were still alive and well, and safe in her stead. Then 83-year old Leo “Bud” Welch brought downhome gospel blues that seared with authenticity. Luther Dickinson performed solo, but brought out Thomas to play drums for much of the set. Later T-Model Ford’s grandson Stud did the same. Dickinson has made his mark as lead guitarist for the North Mississippi Allstars and one-time member of the Black Crowes. But lately he’s been delving deeply into producing other artists and has released a pair of solo records, one of them consisting entirely of instrumental tunes. The most recent, Rock n Roll Blues, provided the material for much of the set.

In between songs, Dickinson regaled the audience with stories of growing up with his father, the legendary Jim Dickinson. His set was like a master class in Mississippi music history, as he explained how he learned about music hands-on growing up in a musical family.

Marty Stuart and Webb Wilder (a Hattiesburg, Miss. native, who also served as emcee) turned in their sets before the show closed out with Paul Thorn, who jumped into the crowd to close the showcase with a rousing hug fest among the fans that reached the fevered pitch of a tent revival. It was a showcase that showed almost all of the branches of Americana, that just so happened to come from one state. Blues, rock, country, gospel and folk all bubbled up in the musical stew that night.

 Just as Leftover Salmon infused the week with some improvisational workouts early on, other bands took the stages and sounded like they owed as much to the Grateful Dead as Flatt & Scruggs as well. And that’s only natural; the Dead were “big-tent” Americana long before industry executives cooked up the term.

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Hard Working Americans’ Dave Schools and Todd Snider. Photo by James Martin

Todd Snider’s new band The Hard Working Americans were nominated for Duo or Group of the Year and performed at the awards show. But the real show came later that night at the sprawling Cannery Ballroom. Billed as “Todd Snider and Friends” the group was essentially the Hard Working Americans, sans guitarist Neal Casal. Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools was the guardian of the groove all night, and undoubtedly the instigator for the chooglin jams the collective swept through over the course of an extraordinary long-for-a-showcase set of about an hour. The band’s best tunes were old classics that even in their selection exuded the definition of Americana—Merle Haggard’s “Working Man Blues,” JJ Cale’s “Crazy Mama” and, fitting for the circumstances, Waylon Jennings’ “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?”

Given Snider’s songwriting pedigree, it’s odd that their debut album consists almost entirely of cover tunes. But at times Snider, masked behind large sunglasses and a floppy hat, would gleefully float to the side of the stage and sway and watch his compatriots as they spaced out, seemed as if he’s trying on a new suit himself.

They were joined by special guests too. Vince Herman of, yep, Leftover Salmon joined in for “Georgia On A Fast Train” and former Yonder Mountain String Band mandolinist Jeff Austin furiously added to “Is This Thing Working?” Elizabeth Cook, and her hairdo, sat in all night on background vocals and various percussion instruments.

It was an Americana showcase, but there was…well, dancing! For an audience that is usually satisfied with some vigorous but thoughtful head nodding, to loosen them up  spoke to the fact that Snider and company were doing something right, and that the Americana family is maybe more diverse than once believed.

Trigger Hippy 9-18-14-3
Trigger Hippy’s Joan Osborne and Jackie Brown. Photo by James Martin

In the same space a few nights later, the unfortunately named but fantastic anyway Trigger Hippy brought similar rootsy blues jams to the stage. Fronted by Joan Osborne and guitarist/keyboardist Jackie Greene, Trigger Hippy hit some of the same notes—loose limbed roots rock with notes of blues and country. In other words, Americana. That Osborne has toured with The Dead and Greene has played with Phil Lesh and The Black Crowes was evident as the band was as comfortable creating space as recreating songs, and they even belted out a Grateful Dead cover with a rousing “Sugaree.”

There were of course lots of singer-songwriters on hand, a few really good bluegrass bands, some earnest roots rockers. Those folks were already in the family. But to allow some of the freakier cousins a seat at the table was a welcome accomplishment for this year’s fest.




Showstopper In Memphis: Jason Isbell Steals The Show As Dawes Opener

Dawes with Jason Isbell
Minglewood Hall
Memphis, Tennessee
October 22, 2013

In just ten seconds after taking the stage at Minglewood Hall, Jason Isbell  had silenced the crowd. Not by chastising them, mind you. There are musicians who do that, literally stop the music (Chris Robinson, for example) just to tell their money-paying fans to stop talking, or maybe to put down their cell phones.

But Isbell did it the right way. All it took was his honest songwriting and a good band.


It was almost unfair to the headliner, Dawes, that the room began to empty once Isbell’s all-too-brief opening set came to a close a short 40 minutes later.

Both bands are touring behind new(ish) albums – Isbell pushing Southeastern, and Dawes is on the road behind Stories Don’t End. Isbell and his 400 Unit took the stage first, and despite the abbreviated set, the former Drive-By Trucker mesmerized with his Southern Gothic lyrics. His songs cut deep, with honest themes capable of resonating with almost anyone. “Elephant,” in particular – a tale about taking care of a cancer patient – had the room silent. Played just by Isbell, Amanda Shires (violin) and Derry DeBorja (keyboards),  it was a haunting take and alone worth the admission price.

With a set built primarily on Southeastern, Isbell didn’t dip too far back into his vast catalogue. Even the “older” songs he played, like “Alabama Pines” and “Codeine,” don’t have too many miles on them. “Cover Me Up” translated nicely to the live set despite its sparse arrangement on Southeastern, and “Stockholm” went over well with the enthusiastic crowd. Concluding with “Super 8,” the 400 Unit delivered a tremendous opening set, and definitely left the crowd wanting more.

Dawes followed, but the bar was set a little too high, and as their set progressed, the crowd started to thin out – it was clear that the Memphis crowd was mostly there for their fellow Southerner Isbell, not the California act.


But with a repertoire founded on strong songwriting, the band was on point from the opening notes. They featured songs from all of their albums, and included a quirky, strongly-executed cover of Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight” to boot.

While the music was by and large great, the most memorable moment was probably when lead singer/guitarist Taylor Goldsmith implored the Birmingham crowd to sing along…which would have been great save for the fact that the band, the audience, and everyone in the vicinity was in Memphis. Given that musicians travel for a living, it’s pretty remarkable that this sort of misstep doesn’t happen more frequently, but the band and the embarrassed frontman took the blunder in stride; they stopped the music, apologized, complimented the city, and moved forward.

“From a Window Seat,” the second track from Stories, was especially powerful. The band powered through the chorus and verses before giving way to Taylor’s guitar solo. “When My Time Comes” was clearly a fan favorite, as the room lent accompanying vocals to the chorus, and “If I Wanted Someone” was another track that went over well.

Towards the end of the set, the band called Isbell onto the stage, and then proceeded to play a blistering “Peace In The Valley.” Isbell unleashed a slide solo worthy of all his Southern rock forefathers, which was nice to see given that, for the most part, his guitar work took a backseat to his songwriting during his opening set. It was phenomenal. Sit-ins can fall flat but this one did not.

Refreshingly, towards the end of the show Goldsmith commented on how, rather than leave the stage for the cursory encore break, they’d just stay there, play a few more songs, and then everyone could go home, because “it was a Tuesday.”

Many great tales were told over the course of the night – stories of love, loss, and travel. The guys from Dawes and Isbell are phenomenal raconteurs. Memphians were fortunate enough to get a chance to watch it all unfold, and no one left disappointed, regardless of what point in the evening they chose to make their exit.

Click the thumbnails to view the photos by Josh Mintz

Jason Isbell



Jason Isbell : Southeastern

Jason Isbell - Southeastern

Jason Isbell has risen to fame as a balladeer, and his newest release – notably attributed to him as a solo artist rather than to his band, the 400 Unit – is proof that he is one of the best in the business.

Southeastern covers more ground than just slow songs, but it is on these where Isbell’s talents come to bear. From the delicately plucked strings that introduce the album-opening “Cover Me Up,” he comes across as the weathered veteran that he is, worn down like driftwood by life’s challenges and personal demons. “Yvette” not only stands out, but it stands tall as arguably one of the best songs he has written. When the album does gain momentum on a few tracks, it does so with mixed results. “Stockholm,” a duet with Kim Richey, brims with lush orchestration, and “Flying Over Water” hangs comfortably on wiry guitar. In contrast, “Super 8,” although comprised of clever lyricism, comes across like generic honky-tonk.

In the end, it all comes back to those slow songs and the gentle sway of a songwriter who, recently sober and newly married, has seen a lot in his 34 years. Southeastern is another fine performance by Jason Isbell, whose career continues to flourish with each song he writes and album he releases.

Southeastern is out June 11 on Southeastern Records.

Jason Isbell announces tour behind ‘Southeastern’

Tour dates have been announced for Jason Isbell, who will be out in support of his much anticipated solo album Southeastern, releasing June 11 via Southeastern Records/Thirty Tigers. Festival stops will include, Hangout Festival in Gulf Shores, AL, Bonnaroo in Manchester, TN, Stones Fest in NYC and Newport Folk Festival in Newport, RI. Isbell will be performing with a full band that will include mainstays Derry deBorja (keyboards), Chad Gamble (drums) and Jimbo Hart (bass), along with new guitarist Sadler Vaden.

Southeastern features the most personal songs Isbell has written to date. The 12 tracks emanate self-reflection, repentance and personal growth, while simultaneously making the statement that Jason Isbell has fully arrived as an artist. The striking vocals and compelling lyrics of the haunting opening track “Cover Me Up”, make it immediately apparent that this is coming from some place much deeper. Isbell’s fight for sobriety, life lessons and newfound happiness inspires the music on Southeastern

Southeastern was recorded in Nashville and produced by Dave Cobb (Jamey Johnson, The Secret Sisters). Special guests include Kim Richey and Amanda Shires, Isbell’s new bride.

Southeastern is the follow up to Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit’s 2011 critically acclaimed release, Here We Rest, which cracked the top 100 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums Chart. The album received high praise from NPR, Associated Press, Esquire, GQ, SPIN, USA Today, Blurt, My Old Kentucky Blog and many more. Isbell made two appearances with the 400 Unit on The Late Show with David Letterman and his song “Alabama Pines” won SONG OF THE YEAR at the 2012 Americana Music Awards & Honors.


Jason Isbell – Tour Dates

May 4  – Huntsville, AL – Crossroads Café

May 17 – Tulsa, OK –  Tulsa Mayfest

May 19 – Gulf Shores, AL –  Hangout Festival

May 22 – New York, NY – Stones Fest at Bowery Ballroom

May 23 – New York, NY – Stones Fest at Bowery Ballroom

June 6 – Bowling Green, KY – The Warehouse at Mt. Victor

June 7  – Louisville, KY – Iroquois Amphitheatre

June 13 – Manchester, TN – Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival

June 14 – Manchester, TN – Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival

June 15 – Manchester, TN – Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival

June 16 – Croton-On-Hudson, NY – Clearwater Festival

June 19 – St. Louis, MO – Off Broadway

June 20  – Kansas City, MO – Crossroads

June 22 – Monterey, CA – Monterey Americana Music Fest

June 25 – Akron, OH – Musica

June 26 – Columbus, OH – Skully’s

June 27 – Ann Arbor, MI – The Ark

June 30 – Charleston, WV – Culture Center Theater

July 1 – Alexandria, VA – The Birchmere

July 2 – Raleigh, NC Lincoln Theatre

July 3 – Charlotte, NC – Visulite Theatre

July 5 – Charleston, SC – Pour House

July 26 – Floyd, VA – Floydfest

July 27 – Newport, RI – Newport Folk Festival

Aug 9 – Wilkes-Barre, PA – Kirby Center

Jason Isbell to release ‘Southeastern’ in June

Southeastern, the new solo album from Jason Isbell, will be released on June 11 via Southeastern Records/Thirty Tigers. Southeastern contains 12 new Isbell compositions and the most personal songs of self-reflection and discovery he has written to date.

The lyrics of the beautiful and haunting opening track “Cover Me Up”, make it immediately apparent that Isbell is speaking from an entirely new viewpoint. The song features his strongest vocals to date, but also kicks the door to his soul wide open for all to see. Isbell struggled, fought his demons and has remained sober for over a year now. Also, he was recently married and has entered the next chapter of his life. However, Southeastern is not an album preaching sobriety, but a work of repentance, self-realization and most importantly, personal growth.

By no means is Southeastern a wholly solemn offering. Tracks such as “Stockholm” (with Kim Richey) and “Traveling Alone” (with Amanda Shires) offer laid back tempos and memorable choruses, while “Flying Over Water” and “Super 8” are strong reminders of Isbell’s deep roots in rock. The poetic and deeply intimate lyrics are the common thread that runs throughout the album, perhaps no better illustrated than on “Live Oak”. “There’s a man who walks beside me, he is who I used to be / and I wonder if she sees him and confuses him with me / and I wonder who she’s pining for on nights I’m not around / could it be the man who did the things I’m living down.”

Southeastern features 400 Unit members Derry deBorja (keyboards) and Chad Gamble (drums) along with Richey and Shires. The album was produced by Dave Cobb (Jamey Johnson, The Secret Sisters). Southeastern is Isbell’s first solo album since his 2007 debut Sirens of the Ditch.

Since then he has recorded three acclaimed albums (two studio, one live) with his band The 400 Unit. 2011’s Here We Rest became Isbell’s most celebrated effort to date, cracking the top 100 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums Chart for the first time. Here We Rest received high praise from a wide range of media, including NPR, Associated Press, Esquire, GQ, SPIN, USA Today, Blurt, My Old Kentucky Blog and many more. Since the release, Isbell has made two appearances with the 400 Unit on The Late Show with David Letterman and his song “Alabama Pines” won SONG OF THE YEAR at the 2012 Americana Music Awards & Honors.

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit (with Paul Shaffer), 12/10/11

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit with Special Guests
Birmingham, AL
December 10, 2011


It is moments like what happened at Jason Isbell‘s WorkPlay performance last week that can be career altering and game changing for a musician.

It all began as a charity effort, a benefit to support the Magic City’s  chapter of Habitat for Humanity. Jason Isbell, the Alabama native and former Drive-By Trucker — who departed from the band in 2007 — was billed to play at the venue. A little over a month earlier, he and his band, the 400 Unit, had made an appearance on David Letterman’s The Late Show in support of the band’s recent studio effort, Here We Rest, in the same manner as countless others have done over the years.

After ripping through “Codeine” (the album’s first single), Letterman thanked the guests of the evening and also elected to mention Isbell’s upcoming show at WorkPlay, most likely due to its charitable contribution. The credits rolled and that was it. Then it wasn’t.  Apparently, Isbell and Unit had left quite the impression on the folks at Worldwide Pants.

Though the show at the near 500 capacity venue was already sold-out, the billing changed as the event drew closer, reading “Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit with Special Guests.” Most expected players from the area, a sit-in or two, opening act Jon Black coming back out, etc. — standard fare for event with a billing of that type. Well, that is not what they got. Rather, they got an onstage guest, Paul Shaffer — who has recorded with artists including Diana Ross, Warren Zevon, Ronnie Wood and a litany of others, produced The Blues Brothers’ musical acts and maintained his gig with Letterman — and an offstage guest, David Letterman, who watched the show from the balcony.

Yep, it was a special night. From Isbell originals to the tunes that Shaffer guested on (including “Hey Pocky Way”), the night was one that its patrons won’t soon forget and Birminghamian Andi Rice was on the scene to capture images from the night in the brilliant way that he does.


Click the thumbnail(s) to view photos from the show by Andi Rice




Home for the holidays with the North Mississippi Allstars

North Mississippi Allstars / Jason Isbell
Minglewood Hall
Memphis, TN
November 25, 2011

Every family has its own holiday customs. For the North Mississippi Allstars, a band whose sound and soul were bred on the grounds their forefathers walked on, that tradition is the Thanksgiving Memphis show. The Allstars’ hometown holiday shows are always a festive occasion, marked by cover tunes and special guests. On November 25, they played to an audience full of rowdy fans, local music icons, and one rock and roll hall of famer.

Jason Isbell warmed up the crowd despite having their trailer of equipment stolen days before in Dallas. Using the Allstars’ gear (except for Jimbo Hart, the bassist…Allstars’ bassist Chris Chew is a lefty), Isbell and the 400 Unit were phenomenal.

Playing choice numbers from the 400 Unit and Drive-By Truckers catalogue, Isbell dazzled with his intoxicating guitar work and poetic lyrics. The set-opening “Go It Alone” set the bar for the night, and the band’s cover of the Meters’ “Hey Pocky Way,” sung by drummer and Memphis local Chad Gamble, was spot on.

Isbell’s set-ending “Try” was a blistering display of just how potent a band Isbell has put together. Mid-song they threw a few instrumental bars of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” into the tune…ironic given that the legendary Zep frontman, Robert Plant, was in attendance at the show.

The Dickinson family has long been central to the rich Mid-South musical community. Memphis has watched the Dickinson brothers grow up, from their DDT days to being joined by Chew and morphing into the North Mississippi Allstars. Their music is steeped in the tones and accents of the region, and the Allstar sound is a bi-product of taking something as personal as the Mississippi hill country blues and making it their own.

It’s special to have the band in town, playing to a room packed with family and friends. But, expectations are always high for a Memphis Allstars show, so when Allstars drummer Cody Dickinson strutted out in a white suit, viking helmet, and goggles, it was clear that, at the very least, the band had dressed for the occasion.

As Cody laid down the intro to “Shimmy She Wobble,” the audience instantly began to move, and by the time the band got to “Mississippi Bollweevil,” the crowd was a unified mass of bodies, boogieing off every one of those extra Thanksgiving pounds. The Allstars segued from “Bollweevil” into “Preachin’ Blues,” bringing the gospel to Memphis, and followed it up with a cover of The Impressions’ “People Get Ready,” led by Chew. “Shake” turned into a crowd sing-along as the band brought the music down to a mere whisper, so the crowd could sing the chorus.

“Mean ‘Ol Wind Died Down” was the first song where Luther Dickinson got to stretch out and show why he is one of the best guitarists touring today, and why the North Mississippi Allstars are at their sharpest as the trio. For a band that has toured sporadically over the past few years, it sure doesn’t take long to round into game shape. As Luther slid his glass slide up and down the neck of his guitar, delivering note after singing note, and Cody and Chew laid down the steadiest of backbeats, the crowd stood at rapt attention, soaking in all of that sickly sweet slide guitar goodness.

The audience was taken to the garage on the subsequent “New Orleans Walking Dead,” a barrage of drum beats from Cody leading the way as Luther unleashed a furious solo while Chew kept a tight bass groove. The Allstars then took the audience to New Orleans, with Chew handling lead vocals on the Lee Dorsey nugget, “Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky (From Now On).” It was an amazing take on the tune, sped up to a near frenetic pace, showcasing the band’s ridiculous instrumental proficiency. It’s amazing how many notes can be shoved into two minutes without clogging up the sound.

Luther picked up his acoustic guitar for “Goin’ Home,” and Cody — the consummate musician — played his drums and guitar simultaneously…the guy never ceases to amaze. Local washboard legend Jimmy Crosthwait, an old band-mate of Dickinson patriarch Jim, took the stage for “Horseshoe” and “Moonshine.” It was a warm but bittersweet moment, but Jim was undoubtedly watching down from above with a huge grin.

The band stepped on the gas with “Po Black Maddie,” bringing the boogie back after the quieter portion of the show. Powered through the R.L. Burnside number, the trio seamlessly segued into a verse of Taj Mahal’s “Chevrolet,” played their way back into “Maddie” and out again into “Skinny Woman,” briefly stopped for a thunderous drum solo, and finally landed at “Psychedelic Sex Machine,” Cody’s vehicle for electric washboard bliss. It was a true testament to just how tight of a group the Allstars are. When they’re locked in and hitting the note, there are few acts who can do they do…at least not with an electric washboard…no one else is doing that.

The back half of the set was reserved for classics, and nothing was left out. The crowd roared when Luther asked if “y’all want to shake ’em on down a little bit,” and “Never In All My Days” was north Mississippi hill country boogie at its very finest. Crosthwait came back out for “KC Jones,” and the band put a slightly different spin on “Sugartown,” playing the tune with a slightly quicker backbeat and a marching bassline that brought a different dimension to the tune. With “Drinkin’ Muddy Water” — during which Cody played his drums with huge red whiffle ball bats and Luther set his guitar down to play a four-stringed cigar box guitar  — the set was over and the band left the stage.

When they returned for the encore, the Allstars had Jason Isbell in tow, and he and Dickinson traded vocals on a cover of Justin Townes Earle’s “Harlem River Blues.” Then, Alvin Youngblood Hart took the stage for a powerful take on his own “Big Mama’s Door” that nearly brought the house down. Luther and Alvin have a great musical connection, and it was showcased on the song. The band closed their encore with “Hear The Hills” and “Let It Roll,” left the stage, and returned yet again, closing the show with “All Night Long > Snake Drive,” and with that, the night was finally over.

The holidays mean a lot of different things to a lot of people, and for Memphis, it has come to mean the Allstars. The night truly was a celebration…a celebration of family — blood and adopted — and friends, old and new. But above all, it was about the musical legacy of the Dickinson family and the North Mississippi Allstars.


More photos from the show by Josh Mintz

North Mississippi Allstars

Jason Isbell

Mucklewain marks the return of grass-roots festivals




Mucklewain Southern Music Festival 
Pinewood, Tennessee
September 28-29, 2007

There has been much talk about the demise of the concert industry in recent years.  Large shed venues have had major drops in ticket sales, and some have even closed their doors.  Many credit skyrocketing ticket prices and vendor gouging as a large part of the problem.  It is hard to get your money’s worth with $175-$200 festival tickets and eight dollar beers.  However, with hard-working festivals like Mucklewain doing poorly at the box office despite offering up stellar lineups, bargain basement admission and a BYOB policy, perhaps there are just a lack of intelligent listeners.

Continue reading Mucklewain marks the return of grass-roots festivals