"I'm in the mud and the mud's in me."
So sings North Mississippi Allstars frontman Luther Dickinson near the end of the Allstars' second album, 51 Phantom. On the one hand, it's a declaration of loyalty to the band's Mississippi hill country roots, but it's also an explanation of what makes this band special.
Unlike most hard-rock bluesmen, the Allstars didn't have to learn the ropes by studying records. It was in the air, in the nearby juke joints, and yeah, in the mud of their native South. Luther Dickinson and his drumming brother Cody sound like exactly what they are: two brothers who've been playing together since they were in grade school, with a telepathic understanding of each other's moves.
Though the entire trio is solid, the star of the band is clearly Luther. A monumentally gifted guitarist, he's to Duane Allman what Stevie Ray Vaughan was to Jimi Hendrix: an earnest disciple who has thoroughly absorbed his mentor's style and added enough regional wrinkles of his own to create a fresh new guitar-hero vocabulary.
One snag is that Luther's not much of a singer. As a vocalist, he's kind of in the young Keith Richards mold: a natural sense of phrasing and a spirit that's willing, but thin, raspy pipes that won't cooperate. But even if these guys don't yet have any classics of their own to add to the blues-rock canon, they're still plying the form with more verve than just about anybody out there right now.