Keep on Marchin'

North Mississippi Allstars redefine the blues jam

It's an undeniable fact that certain traditionally black genres of music such as the blues and sacred steel have become embraced by jam-band audiences far and wide. Despite what some purists may think, this is irrefutably a good thing. Artists like Robert Cray, Aubrey Ghent, and the Lee Boys can afford to play music full-time mainly because white audiences with the right ear are able to make the connection between the jamtastic sounds of the Grateful Dead and the pace of guitar-happy Southern blues. There are a few bands across the country that are honing in on this type of fusion, but they're all chasing the North Mississippi Allstars, the funky trio that's two parts jam, one part soul, and 100 percent committed to welding the sounds of Southern blues and rock into one enjoyable groove.

On its new concert DVD, Keep on Marchin,' the band lays down a bevy of jam riffs mixed with traditional backwoods blues, which may not work in some parts of the country but goes over well in Burlington, Vermont, where the footage was all shot. Filmed in November 2005 at the height of the band's popularity, much of its performance that night was drenched in cotton-field psychedelia and hillside rockabilly sweat. The synergy among guitarist/lead singer Luther Dickinson, drummer and brother Cody Dickinson, and bassist Chris Chew is obvious as the band locks in early and stays sonically connected all night long. There are initial snags, however, in the energy of the crowd; as the band moves from songs like "Mississippi Boll Weevil" to "Run On" and "Teasin' Brown," the audience initially seems stuck in a jamming dead zone as the more bluesy tunes don't give the crowd what it's yearning for.

This is Phish country, and most of the crowd tends to stand around or simply sway rather annoyingly where the bodies are determined to jam-dance no matter what. As the concert picks up, so does the pace of the audience, and as the band jumps into tunes like "Moonshine" and "Goin' Down South," all the revelers are there, hootin' and hollerin,' clapping off-beat in the process but having a good time. The best part of the DVD comes when Cody jumps out in front of the audience and starts playing the electric washboard with a set of spoons, with Luther backing him up on drums. The camaraderie among the three musical brothers is so tangible, it's no wonder this concert celebrated the group's tenth anniversary as a band.

 
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