The brothers Dickinson made the unusual and unimaginably successful transition from punk rock to Delta blues in 1996, forming the North Mississippi Allstars with bassist Chris Chew. The progeny of renowned Memphis producer/musician Jim Dickinson (Big Star's Third/Sister Lovers, the Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers), Cody and Luther reverently re-create the North Mississippi juke-joint aesthetic, as refracted through Allman Brothers and ZZ Top, with modest refurbishment. There's no irony, no po-mo revisionism about the Allstars' blues. Nurtured by their family connections and friendships with local blues artists such as R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough, the brothers indulged their blues interest in side projects while dedicating most of their time to their thrash band, DDT. But even that outfit ended up growing a sax and keyboards and taking on an electrified-boogie sound.When their keyboardist and female vocalist moved to New York, the brothers decided to pursue the music they'd grown up hearing, debuting their new band alongside legends Othar Turner and Burnside. Unable to afford traveling with a bassist, Cody and Luther toured the South as a duo, honing their chops and cultivating their musical character before setting it down on record. Three years later, they delivered the critically acclaimed Shake Hands With Shorty, a collection of 10 old blues covers that captured the feral energy of their live performances. Their new album, 51 Phantom, was produced by their father, who added piano. Bolstered by Luther's rich slide work and an ankle-deep bottom end, their first attempt at writing their own blues songs comes off well. Loose-flowing and supply played, songs such as "Storm" revisit the Southern blues inflection of the Allmans; others, like "Sugartown," roll over a raved-up electric-blues construct, giving Luther ample opportunity to kick out some down-and-dirty jams. Throughout, there's a sense of revival and renaissance that can only come from musicians who truly love and respect the form.
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