By Hal Horowitz
On the joyous and stirring Set Sail, the Allstars deliver a confident, captivating, enthusiastic vibe which sticks after the first spin.
Those looking for some much-needed positivity in these troubled times need search no longer - The North Mississippi Allstars have you covered with a healthy dose of it on their optimistic new record, Set Sail.
The veteran multiple Grammy nominated outfit led by brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson have been knocking around for a quarter of a century, churning out a dozen albums with a revolving door of sympathetic supporting musicians. Although never crossing over into major popularity, the Allstars have amassed a dedicated cult following by doggedly adhering to an eclectic musical palette - maintaining a connection to their Southern Mississippi roots while pushing boundaries into alternatively dark and frisky folk, jazz, gospel and R&B.
The current revamped NMAS moves into dusky soul territory helped by new member Lamar Williams Jr. (son of the onetime Allman Brothers Band bassist) on lead vocals. He joins the Dickinson’s for a three-pronged vocal effort that’s occasionally raw, always honest and undoubtedly heartfelt. From the backwoods thump of ‘Outside’, where Luther dabbles in some freaky yet delicate backwards guitar, to the spooky swamp-funk of ‘Rabbit Foot’ and the bubbling R&B of ‘See the Moon’, the Allstars sound renewed and inspired.
The brothers typically invite others to enhance and expand their music. On 2019’s Up and Rolling, guests included Mavis Staples, Jason Isbell and Cedric Burnside. This time Stax legend William Bell takes frontman status for the album’s centerpiece, ‘Never Want to Be Kissed’, a song he co-wrote and helped produce. It’s a sizzling, melancholy, broken romance ballad complete with strings and horns that could make for a lost 60s gem.
Bell, now in his early eighties, sounds as convincing and powerful as he did decades ago singing hits like ‘You Don’t Miss Your Water’ and ‘I Forgot to Be Your Lover’. Yet though it’s a wonderful, show stopping performance, it stands slightly out of place with the rest of this album’s earthier material.
While the NMAS are known for knockout, jubilant, roof raising live shows, that approach is taken down a few notches here. As self-producers, the brothers create compelling grooves where selections like the rubbery bass and drum percolating Sly Stone-styled ‘Juicy Juice’ thrive.
On the joyous and stirring Set Sail, the Allstars deliver a confident, captivating, enthusiastic vibe within powerfully soulful music which sticks after the first spin. It’s an uplifting collection, encouraging listeners to push forward through the world’s divisiveness and join them looking for brighter days ahead. That’s summed up in ‘See the Moon’ with “I feel the fire, I see the sound, raise my hands to the sky, get down...I feel the music, washing over me”.
You will too.
Set Sail is out on Friday 28th January via New West Records. You can listen to / purchase the album from Holler's selected partners below:
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