North Mississippi Allstars / Hill Country Revue
San Francisco, California
January 23 & 24, 2009
The start of 2009 has seen the North Mississippi Allstars inexorably on the go once again, with a dynamic new "side" project to cultivate and anxious fans to appease. The hardest working trio in rock is successfully demonstrating the concept of a musical revue by touring with Hill Country Revue, and the results displayed just how well the concept lends itself to NMA’s particular brand of good old fashioned rock and roll. There is amusing genius in the pairing for this tour. When you have a solid new stage project that sounds this good and then add one Luther Dickinson to the mix, the results are about as ideal as a rock revue could ever be
This winter the Hill Country Revue line up includes Cody Dickinson on guitar, Chris Chew on bass, Kirk Smithart on guitar, Dan Coburn on harmonica/vocals and Ed Cleveland on drums. The stage arrangements were always revolving and made the entire weekends worth of entertainment essentially unpredictable as to what each jam would lead to.
Hill Country Revue has given these musicians a chance to pursue new ways of delivering the old sounds that have carried the NMA journey for the past 15 years. NMA fans will undoubtedly find the HCR song repertoire recognizable – it’s the eclectic style that the classics are played with that will have both old and new fans intrigued. Their signature opening song seems to be a rock-fortified version of "Georgia Women," and it had the San Francisco crowd moving and taking immediate notice from the very first funky/chunky note Smithart fired off.
A major highlight of Friday night’s set was the playing of an old Cody-penned NMA tune, "Mud." This song was the selection of a radio contest winner whose prize was to hear NMA play any song of their choice. The winner no doubt understood that the song was extremely rare to hear live, and was doubly rewarded to have it played by the Revue. The audience reaction and participation levels for this number should/could be a huge indicator that it belongs in the standard repertoire of songs.
Friday night’s NMA set started with newer material from Hernando before taking the crowd back a century in time with songs like "Drinkin’ Muddy Water" and "Shake ‘Em On Down." Luther’s fingers were crawling like a hungry tarantula on the strings and he wasted no time at all in putting out finely cultivated lead jams at any (and many) opportunity. Sparks flew for Big Chew as he belted out his soulful and extended version of "I’m A Ram." His smooth voice is an absolute compliment to the bigger sounding Revue and adds a great soulful balance to the rowdier side of the show.
Saturday night’s HCR set kicked it up a notch with another cover that this group does major justice to – "Them Changes." The drum beats were snarlin’ and the instrumentals unparalleled. HCR employs a revolving mic stand and it is observable that all enjoy their turn to resonate vocal expression, but the tunes they play truly stand out as rockstrordinary when Dixie Dan steps up to contribute his particular brand of vocal “authoriteh.”
The washboard solo (with double drums by Luther and Ed) took place mid-set both nights and was the indicator that NMA was soon going to take the stage over for a spell. It is truly entertaining to see Luther switch instruments and bounce as he hits the skins to the low bass notes that keep him tight in time, all the while smiling at his brother zipping off electric metal riffs.
On Saturday night the Allstars delivered a slightly bluesier set list with a reverence paid to both RL Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. "Crazy Bout You" was performed with a dynamism that hypnotized the hip crowd just long enough to ramp them up for a deep hitting rendition of "Soldier." "Eyes" and "Meet Me in the City" also came out for some air time before the evening eased out with an always astounding cover of Jimi Hendrix’s "Hear My Train a Comin."
Both nights in San Francisco were played to sold out crowds, which is probably a good indication that the West knows how to appreciate a Revue party….Mississippi style. If this tour is coming to your town soon get out and see it. Odds are likely you won’t be disappointed.
Click the thumbnail for more photos from the two shows