The Allstars provide answers in Richmond

North Mississippi Allstars
The National
Richmond, Virginia
May 17, 2008

Children wonder about all kinds of things.  Where does the sun go at night?  Where do babies come from?  Where does the sound of the blues go when it wants to get psychedelic?  While the answers to the first questions are tough, the answer to the last question is easy – they show up at a North Mississippi Allstars show and get kicked around by Luther Dickinson and crew.

The evening began with an inspired solo set by bluesman Alvin Youngblood Hart that seemed to perfectly set the stage and get everyone in just the right kind of mood for the Allstars.  A quick set change, which was no more than removing the couple of guitars Alvin Heart had been using, and the Hill Country Blues trio from Mississippi blasted onto the stage.

Opening with “Eaglebird” off their new album Hernando, the trio (Luther Dickinson – guitar, Chris Chew – bass, and Cody Dickinson – drums) wasted no time in putting their psychedelic blues on display. They moved seamlessly into another new tune, “Shake,” that with the upmost wisdom implored all the ladies to shake what their mommas gave them, and even those not of the female gender just that.  After “Shake” they put together a run of songs that touched on all realms of their catalog.  They started with the Chew-sung “I’d Love to Be a Hippy,” moved into the subtle “Mean Ole’ Wind Died Down,” shifted gears to the classic blues of “Shake’em On Down” that the All Stars have made their own, and then moved into “Po Black Maddie > Skinny Woman.” They ended the run by segueing into the slow dirge blues breakdown of “Sugartown.

The Allstars then paused for a moment and made some room in the middle of their stage setup to provide space for Alvin Youngblood Hart, who joined them for the rest of the set.  While the North Mississippi Allstars can play the blues with a genuine authenticity, there was something special about adding Hart and his road-weary, tired-of-life voice and guitar to the mix that made the music they created together seem to be the sound of the soulful blues brought to life.

Their time on stage together saw them follow an almost upward arc of emotion.  Starting with the oft-covered “In My Time of Dying,” the band evoked the very sound of death in Hart’s gutturally moan.  They slowly built up to the set ending “All Night Long > Turn On Your Lovelight” that closed things out with a cover of Solomon Burke’s “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love” which finished the set on a positive note.

Drummer Cody came out to start the encore with his washboard strapped on and as they do so often the band took us on the deranged acid-tinged journey that they call “Psychedelic Sex Machine,” that finds the drummer attacking his washboard with a maniacal intensity. They then closed out the night with another new tune, “Soldier,” that moved into R.L Burnside’s “Snake Drive” which answered the question we had been wondering all night – “Where does the sound of the blues go when it wants to get psychedelic?”