Breaking new/old ground with the South Memphis String Band in New Orleans

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South Memphis String Band
House of Blues – Parish Room
New Orleans, Louisiana
April 26, 2009

If there are any contemporary musical projects out there gracing the highways of south eastern America worth mentioning right now, it has got to be the unpretentious, unrehearsed (and unsigned) sounds of the South Memphis String Band.  

Alvin Youngblood Hart, Jimbo Mathus and Luther Dickinson possess a plethora of complimentary musical talents, which has allowed the trio to form a spontaneous musical amalgamation that aims to entertain many a serious blues and roots fan.  Their show is an erstwhile yet fresh display of true character, melodious articulation and old instruments played with state of the art showmanship.

A1.jpgAll three members of this trio contributed to the two hour set in Nawlins, which consisted of original and traditional cover material. Works from the likes of the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Blind Willie Johnson and Little Junior Parker were delivered with an obvious respect for the art of story telling and song writing.  These gifted and gritty troubadours spun tales from the Americana experience, augmented by the various combinations of steel and acoustic guitars, banjo, mandolin and harmonica mixed amongst the members, which made the show an ever interesting revolving arrangement. (Complete with a jawbone for good measure).

The string playing abilities of all three of these men combined to make a very amenable twang. Without a doubt this group is bound to congeal a unique and recognizable brand of sound by the time their traveling practice sessions are through – these songs sound more rehearsed than they really are. The collective confidence that the members put forth in performing their chosen selections together was quite impressive. 

Audience participation levels in New Orleans are quite often an exuberant contribution to the atmosphere of any given show played there, and this Jazzfest crowd was no exception in the enthusiasm department. Jimbo Mathus served as a sort of porch MC and seemed genuinely motivated to have fun at the helm and keep the unrestricting approach towards the structure of the set list. His love of singing and playing was unmistakable during the gospel tune "Let the Light from the Lighthouse Shine On Me."

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The ever thunderous artistry of Alvin Youngblood Hart had many admirers in the crowd stridently howling along to the vocals on his popular traditional song "How Long Before I Can Change my Clothes." Hart devotees were also getting downright jiggy to the harmonic renditions of "France Blues" and "Smokestack Lightning," and the W.T. Narmour instrumental “Carol County Blues” held particularly high energy with Dickinson and Hart on dueling mandolins and Jimbo grinning wide while keeping good time on guitar in the middle.

L1.jpgDickinson was in a no holds barred frame of mind on any given one of the jams passed to him on the evening’s stage. He gladly made way to contribute his astute finger picking skills at each appropriate interval. Patterson Hood (Drive-By Truckers) made a surprise guest appearance and eagerly accepted an invite by Luther to clap and chant with the trio for his rendition of Johnny Lee Moore’s "18 Hammers." The introduction of a guest was a welcomed surprise and added a special touch of Southern hospitality to the show.

The close of the evening had Jimbo subliminally and appropriately reminding the room that it was Sunday evening by bringing some Mississippi mud to the dance floor with a resolute version of "Highway 51." 

The SMSB experience is a relaxed and upbeat atmosphere of entertainment and song that will have all of its listeners quickly engaged and delighted. With any luck, fans of this traveling road show will see an official album surface. Who knows what kind of motivation and inspiration that this musical ministerial of a road trip will provide for the group.

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