The North Mississippi Allstars stick to their roots

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There’s something to be said for sticking to your roots, and on their latest album, World Boogie Is Coming, the North Mississippi Allstars really do bring it on home. They went to the heart of the Mississippi hill country on tunes by such area legends as R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, and Otha Turner, and cranked the authenticity level up by bringing in Burnside’s sons Duwayne and Garry and Turner’s granddaughter Shardé Thomas.

As singer-guitarist Luther Dickinson explains on the phone from his home in Hernando, Mississippi, the album is a homage to the artists that so heavily influenced him and his younger brother, NMA drummer Cody.

“We were so fortunate to experience the hill country in the ’90s,” he recalls. “You know, R.L. Burnside was in his prime, and Junior Kimbrough had his juke joint, and Otha Turner was doin’ his picnics. That changed our lives, and inspired us to start the band.

“It was such a long time ago now,” he adds, “and everyone passed away, but there’s still so much talent here. We wanted to invite all our friends, and show everybody where it was at.”

As well as members of the Burnside and Turner clans, the Allstars recruited buddies like blues pickers Kenny Brown and Alvin Youngblood Hart. They also got some help on the album’s first two songs—the Kimbrough-penned “JR” and the NMA original “Goat Meat”—from Robert Plant, who blew harp on both tracks.

“He blessed us with his presence, man,” says Dickinson, before explaining that he and Cody became tight with the former Zep man while touring with his rootsy group the Band of Joy back in 2011.

“He took us all around the world,” explains Dickinson. “We went to Russia and the Ukraine and Lithuania, and worked our way through Europe. It was amazing to watch him cement his band from a group of musicians into a real band. They would rehearse one or two hours every day, and it was really admirable to watch. He is not lazy.”

Dickinson hasn’t been much of a slouch either, picking up the Mississippi hill country torch and running with it in full blaze on World Boogie. And how far does he hope to take it?

“I can’t presume that we’ll turn younger kids on to it,” he says, “but I do feel the responsibility to, well, for one, I feel responsibility to the electric guitar—to keep it cool, you know. I really picked that up recently from Jack White, ’cause electric guitar goes in and out of style, but he’s a very strong rock ’n’ roll guitar player, and he’s keepin’ it cool.
“But the responsibility I do feel to the community is the repertoire. The songs we learned from R.L. and Junior and Otha—that’s the oral tradition, you know. The music will evolve and change, but the songs, that’s the focus.”

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