The bass player for North Mississippi Allstars says the band is at its creative peak, which is quite an accolade for the esteemed Hill Country blues and roots rock group that has been around since 1996.
Brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson are the constants in the group, which brought in bassist Lightnin Malcolm in 2012.
“We’re tight enough to where we can take off on a tangent and everybody follows and knows how to go out and then get back into the song,” Malcolm told Tahoe Onstage. “You can feel it from the people. It’s really an exciting time right now. We’re really at a creative peak with the jamming part.”
The brothers are sons of Memphis recording legend Jim Dickinson. While they trade instruments during performances, Cody is the band’s primary drummer while Luther plays slide guitar.
The band walked on to the national stage in the Hill Country footprints of bluesman R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough, who finally became recording stars at the very end of their careers. Beginning with “Shake Hands With Shorty” in 2000, the North Mississippi Allstars received Grammy nominations for “Best Contemporary Blues Album” for each of its first three records. After two more records, the brothers explored different areas.
The former lead guitarist for the Black Crowes, Luther plays with the South Memphis String Band, a five-piece folk band, the Wandering, and has been appearing with Anders Osborne with Phil Lesh’s cadre of artists. Cody has produced several artists, made movie soundtracks and has acted on the big and small screens. They reunited in 2010 after their father died and recorded “Keys to the Kingdom.” According to press materials, Jim Dickinson had told them, “You need to be playing music together. You are better together than you will ever be apart.”
In November the North Mississippi Allstars announced a West Coast tour to support the release of “New World Boogie.” The album is a return to the sound of the debut album which captured everyone’s attention, according to Blues Music Magazine’s Chris Kerlake, who wrote, “The North Mississippi Allstars are set to take over the world.”
The praise is hardly hyperbolic to anyone who witnessed NMA’s High Sierra Music Festival performance July 5. It was the highlight of a festival that included Robert Plant, Anders Osborne, Steel Pulse and John Scofield.
Luther Dickinson is not a guitarist who plays a million notes. He spaces his groove and, as Malcolm says, “lets the notes marinate.”
Upon noticing a three-day gap between shows in San Francisco and Salt Lake City. an inquiry was sent to Devil Dog Production’s Brent Harding, who replied in an email, “Already working on it.” Three weeks later it was announced the band would play Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 2 in the Crystal Bay Casino.
“This will be the second show for the North Mississippi Allstars at the CBC, however Cody Dickinson and (bassist) Chris Chew have been here a few times with the Hill Country Revue,” said Casino Manager Bill Wood. “On one such night, (jazz singer and saxophone player) Mindi Abair joined the band in the Red Room for an otherworldly jam.
“Luther Dickinson has been here as a guest during Snowlive as well. Each member excels at their particular instrument. Seeing Cody play his electric washboard while Luther often times breaks out the ‘Lowbow’ his cigar box guitar, is quite a treat.”
“With the two brothers, we have some great improvisation going on,” Malcolm said. “Some of these songs are really tight but with these jams going on in the middle of them with some great moments. I get a kick out of holding that low end. It really helps them guys extend out into space and know they can come back to mother earth.”
Malcolm and Luther Dickinson have been close friends since meeting on the dance floor in the 1990s at a Junior Kimbrough concert.
“We live pretty close to each other and we were doing some writing,” Malcolm said. “One night we wrote six great songs so easy. I said, ‘Let me go on the road with you for a minute, and we’ll write some more. Gimme the bass.’ ”
Malcolm is an accomplished guitarist who plays in a duo with Stud, the grandson of bluesman T Model Ford. They will open Sunday’s show. Malcolm will then join the brothers for the NMA set, which could go on a while. The Crown Room has been “soundproofed” so there is no more 12:30 a.m. curfew.
“If the women are dancing, we normally keep on playing,” Malcolm said.
North Mississippi Allstars with Lightnin Malcolm
When: 9 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 2
Where: Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room
Tickets: $22 in advance or $25 on the day of the show