Blues & Ballads

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For blues lovers, Mississippi is most noted for its meeting-the-devil-at-the-crossroads-at-midnight blues that Robert Johnson—“King of the Delta Blues”—popularized some 80 years ago. Somewhat less well-known is north Mississippi hill country blues, a repetitious, hypnotic-like boogie Luther Dickinson favors. Memphis native Dickinson’s family moved to the hill country when he was 12; now 43, he formed the North Mississippi Allstars 16 years ago and released nine albums. Blues & Ballads, a “stripped down—very acoustic and honest and folky” 21-song collection, succeeds on all levels as he and a small band of stalwarts celebrate the world’s natural wonders (e.g., rain, wind, storms, sunshine, moonlight, moonshine). There’s a lot of atmospheric slide guitar sprinkled throughout, plus some very tasty fiddle-, fife- and banjo-playing and through it all surge Dickinson’s homespun vocals and startling imagery. The very lively “Bang Bang Lulu” is a schoolyard rhyme via Furry Lewis. Mavis Staples joins him for a deeply felt tribute to his late father. All in all a terrific album.