North Mississippi Allstars at Alchemy
As much fun as it would be to refer to this North Mississippi Allstars’ mid-October performance in Providence as ‘The Night of the Switcheroo,’ that would tell only the partial tale. Yes, the superb veteran band- led by brothers, Luther and Cody Dickinson, and with bassist Joey Williams- often switched instruments and roles during the two-hour-and-45-minute single set. Yet, the change-ups weren’t unique to the stop in Rhode Island’s capital city; it’s something the trio has been employing regularly, especially with the addition of Williams, whose variety of talents as a guitarist and vocalist add another kicking layer of delight to the already-exhilarating Allstars.
So, when Williams swapped places with Luther for renditions of B.B. King’s “Why I Sing the Blues” and Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody,” or Cody jumped up from behind the kit, grabbed a guitar, and belted out Junior Kimbrough’s “All Night Long,” the “switcheroos,” as Luther called them, only amplified the deep reverence and care each of the three have for the art form. What could have been interpreted as novel, instead conveyed three top-flight musicians finding and expressing each’s own personal blues.
And, it’s the Blues that is the foundation, as it’s always been with NMA, for a slew of extended jams. Whether working out the groove early on “Ship”- going back two decades to 51 Phantom– or on “Set Sail, pt. 1,” from the group’s Grammy-nominated and latest, Set Sail, there were plenty of dynamic exchanges between the three; often supporting, countering, and informing the once-again stellar guitar from Luther, one of the finest players on any stage. All the more reason why the switches impress; to see musicians so skilled in their respective spots cede to each other in truly generous service to the songs.
They slipped a sly reference to The Allman Brothers Band’s “Mountain Jam” into “Up and Rolling,” as Luther noted the chill in the room, grabbed his denim, and then heated up the club with some six-string fire of his own. As well, there were some classic NMA faves in the mix; notably, the down and dirty digs into “Skinny Woman” and “Shake (Yo Mama).” And some additional sparks from guest guitarist, Will Bart, on the “King Bee” encore. Fold in a scorching “Mean Old World,” a hypnotizing “You Got to Move,” and a raucous “K.C. Jones (On the Road Again),” and this cold evening that got so much hotter becomes synonymous with the venue’s name, itself: an alchemy of sounds, songs, and the North Mississippi Allstars, switcheroos and all, turning the blue flames into gold.