Cody Dickinson pounds some new pavement
ASPEN In 2008, for the first time in years, the North Mississippi Allstars took long breaks from touring. Drummer Cody Dickinson took the time off to work out some muscles that generally dont get used in band that his been his primary gig for a decade. He composed the score for Gone Missing, a documentary show about real-life disappearances that shows on The Travel Channel. He created source cues background sounds for Tell Tale, a horror-drama produced by Ridley Scott and due for release this year. Dickinson even tried his hand at acting, starring in $5 Cover, a Web series by Craig Brewer. The series is set in the citys down-and-dirty night clubs, and uses Memphis-area musicians to play versions of themselves. But Dickinson said that Brewer, the writer and director of the acclaimed 2005 hip-hop film Hustle & Flow, demanded genuine acting from his cast. He took real people and put them in situations, using Method acting techniques, said Dickinson. It was hard. The rest of time away from the North Mississippi Allstars, Dickinson spent on much more familiar turf playing in Hill Country Revue. The name is familiar: It was the title of a North Mississippi Allstars album, recorded live at the 2004 Bonnaroo festival. The membership was familiar: Among Dickinsons bandmates in the new group was Allstars bassist Chris Chew; as well as Garry Burnside, the younger brother of former Allstar Duwayne Burnside and a guest performer on the Hill Country Revue album.Finally, the sound was familiar a close cousin of the raw, raucous blues-rock played by the Allstars. Even some of the songs were borrowed from the Allstars repertoire.I remember making a conscious decision to do what I do, without changing much at all, said Dickinson. Going off the deep end I didnt really see the point in putting a bunch of effort into that. I work on so many different projects, I get to express myself musically in a number of ways.In fact, Hill Country Revue is one such project. While the music doesnt represent much of a change, Dickinsons role in making it does. In the new band, Dickinson almost exclusively plays guitar, whereas in the Allstars, he is primarily the drummer (although he and his brother, guitarist Luther, occasionally swap instruments, and Cody takes a turn each show playing the electric washboard).The driving force behind Hill Country Revue was to let Dickinson and Chew play, in a focused and sustained way, with other musicians. When it came time to put the band together, I picked up the most talented musicians I knew, said Dickinson, who is joined in the group by drummer Ed Hot Cleveland and singer-guitarist Kirk Smithhart, as well as Chew and Burnside.The reception the band has received indicates that the appetite for high-powered blues-rock has not been filled. Alice Mae, a song from a sampler CD put out by the band, was picked up by Sirius satellite radio; it went to number one on the Jam Bands channel. That was a huge morale boost, but I dont know how it happened, said Dickinson. Equally encouraging and puzzling was the offer of a record contract from the Razor & Tie label.The two bands make up a double bill and then some at Belly Up Aspen on Wednesday, Jan. 28. Hill Country Revue opens, with North Mississippi Allstars as the headliner. The Allstars set is likely to be followed with the two bands combining forces meaning, essentially, Luther Dickinson sitting in with Hill Country Revue.Luther is also featured heavily on Hill Country Revues debut album, Make a Move, due out mid-spring. Still, Cody expects that the album, produced by Kid Rock bassist Aaron Julison, will help the band establish its own identity. The album comprises all original material, most of it written by Burnside. Cody plays drums on the album.That identity, as it happens, echoes early North Mississippi Allstars. The Allstars introduced themselves with Shake Hands with Shorty, a 2000 Grammy-nominated album that didnt stray far from the well-rooted Mississippi electric blues style. Over time, the Allstars wandered stylistically, especially on 2003s Polaris, which incorporated modern rock and pop. (A comprehensive view of the Allstars is provided on Do I t Like We Used to Do, a CD/DVD package released last week.)Hill Country has taken on a life of its own, said Dickinson. Its more aggressive, with a hard-rock edge. The record sounds like revolution and world domination. It rocks 10 songs, back-to-back, hard-hitting, shake-yer-ass blues. Lots of lead guitar work. People are in for a shock. Its the closest record to Shake Hands with Shorty Ive made.Playing in a new band one that doesnt include his older brother has been an adjustment. But Dickinson is adapting fine.At first, every time we were leaving a city, I always felt like I was leaving someone behind, he said about not having Luther in the tour bus. But once Im into playing guitar, being out front, on washboard, it felt so freeing to me. Performing felt new and exciting. Its a whole new creative expression.
North Mississippi Allstars, with Hill Country Revue opening, appear Wednesday, Jan. 28, at Belly Up Aspen. Showtime is 10 p.m. Tickets are $26 in advance and $29 the day of the firstname.lastname@example.org
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