The North Mississippi Allstars make it their mission to keep the legacy of the Delta blues alive. Their band draws inspiration from the southern blues and rock titans of the past while keeping the music fresh and vibrant, led by brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson, who have been playing together for over 20 years. Their current tour made a stop at The Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles and the inspired show delighted a packed house of fans.
Luther is primarily the band’s lead guitarist and vocalist. His slide and finger picking forays at The Roxy show were world class. Cody played drums, occasionally took over on vocals and kept a small electronic keyboard to the right of his drum kit for filling in the sound on a few songs. Bassist Carl Dufresne thumped out the driving low end. He has been with the band since early 2018 after spending many years with Anders Osborne.
All three are gifted, versatile musicians. So much so that when Cody jumped out from behind his drum kit halfway through the set and strapped on an electronic washboard, Luther took over on drums. Cody’s old-roadhouse-like, foot-stomping washboard romp called “Psychedelic Sex Machine” got the crowd stirred up into a near frenzy.
Much later, when the band began their encore, Cody picked up a guitar and played “ML,” a fingerpicking duet with brother Luther. For the closing song of the encore, Luther thumped the bass while Carl played impressively on guitar. Throughout the two-plus-hour show, the trio played extensively from their deep catalog while mixing in covers that paid tribute to those that came before. The audience was treated to several blues classics like Charley Patton’s “Mississippi Boweevil Blues,” RL Burnside’s “Po Black Maddie” and “Goin’ Down South” and Junior Kimbrough’s “Meet Me in the City” and “All Night Long.”
The North Mississippi Allstar songs included “Prayer For Peace,” 2017’s title track, from their most recent album. They played additional tunes from that album like “Miss Maybelle” and “Run Red Rooster.” On “Run Red Rooster,” Luther and Carl pulled out what looked like handmade, old-fashioned bass and guitar instruments. Each consisted of tin cans nailed to long, stringed sticks that produced surprisingly sweet sounds, adding to the throwback vibe of the show. They also dug deeper into their catalog with “Lord Have Mercy,” “Let Me In” and “Shake (Yo Mama).”
The band waited for the end of the set to bring out a surprise guest. Luther introduced Duane Betts, the guitarist who normally plays with his father Dickey’s band Great Southern and with Devon Allman in their new project, The Allman Betts Band. Betts has opened for the North Mississippi Allstars in the past and the renowned guitar gunslinger is an excellent foil to play off of the blistering riffs produced by Luther Dickinson.
They began with a B.B. King classic, “Mean Ole World” and true to form, took turns trading outstanding guitar solos. Carl sang Kenny Wayne Shepard’s “Tina Nina Nu” followed by Cody on lead vocals for “Deep Elem Blues,” an American traditional song recorded many times over the years. The set and sit-in ended with “Shake ‘Em on Down,” another delta blues classic by Bukka White from 1937. Betts and Luther Dickinson enjoyed the mini-set of dueling guitars while the crowd went wild.
The five-song encore included another intriguing appearance by those ancient-looking, tin-can string instruments as Carl Dufresne and Luther Dickinson wailed away on “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.” They also broke out “Sitting on Top of the World,” another traditional American country blues standard that the band recorded in 2000. It sure seemed like the trio was on top of the world when they ended the show with an instrument swap on Kimbrough’s “All Night Long.”
Unfortunately for the rabid fans at The Roxy Theatre, the house curfew prevented that song’s title from becoming a reality, and the band said goodnight for the final time. The North Mississippi Allstars proved to Los Angeles that, when performed with precision and respect, the Delta blues are not just still alive in 2019, they are a vibrant part and essential building block of modern southern rock.