“Eyes,” the first track on the North Mississippi Allstars’ new album Polaris, kicks off with the same crunchy, modern blues sound that has become the band’s trademark.
But then something interesting happens.
“Eyes” splits open, making way for the kind of energetic pop-rock tune that was perfected in the mid ’90s by bands like Dada and the Gin Blossoms. Surprisingly, it later slides back into the gritty instrumental that closes the song, all without missing a beat.
Such is the identity crisis faced by the Allstars’ on Polaris, the band’s third album. However, far from sounding confused, the band actually combines its pop and blues influences in a coherent, catchy way that artists like Johnny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd never quite perfected.
After a couple albums spearheaded by brother and guitarist Luther Dickinson, drummer Cody Dickinson (following in the proud tradition of Don Henley, Phil Collins and — well, that’s about it) steps to the forefront, penning pop gems like “Otay” and the album’s title track. He even takes a stab at power ballads with the grand “One to Grow On,” a song that features Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher.
But don’t think the boys of the North Mississippi Allstars have sold out their roots completely: they are still disciples of the blues, wearing it on their sleeves on tracks like “Never in All My Days” and an update of the old Junior Kimbrough classic “Meet Me in the City.”
Also worth mentioning is the addition of a fourth member to the Allstars: guitarist and vocalist Duwayne Burnside, son of legendary bluesman RL Burnside. Burnside’s presence seems to round out the Allstars’ sound, while also making the band even more of a second-generation blues super group — the Dickinson brothers are the sons of famous producer Jim Dickinson.
“Polaris” is one of those odd albums that gets better and better as you listen and is definitely worth checking out by both those with mainstream tastes and those with more eclectic leanings. At the very least, I bet it’s a hell of a lot better than the new Nelson record.