The North Mississippi Allstars pay homage to their blues heroes on their fourth album, Electric Blue Watermelon, due September 6th.
"In the Nineties, what just turned me around completely was getting to know [Mississippi blues legends] Otha Turner, R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough," Allstars singer/guitarist Luther Dickinson says. "I just learned so much from those guys. My father [Rolling Stones sideman/Replacements producer Jim Dickinson] couldn't believe that we were able to have that musical relationship. So the album's a nod to that multi-generational passing on of how blues becomes rock & roll."
Turner died in 2003, at the age of ninety-four, but his lyrics live on through Electric Blue Watermelon. "After Otha passed, I really started writing for this record," Dickinson says. "I went through all these old tapes of him and me sitting on his front porch drinking moonshine, playing guitars and joking around. I transcribed the lyrics that Otha would improvise, and I organized them into three songs."
For "Hurry Up Sunrise," which Turner's conceived of as a conversation between a man and a woman, the Allstars recruited Lucinda Williams to sing the female role. "The man's coming in, he's been out all night and he's trying to get back home," Dickinson explains. "He finally gets home and his woman doesn't want anything to do with him. Lucinda is a pretty old friend and was an obvious choice. She was so cool to help us out."
Musically, the Allstars -- brothers Luther and Cody (drums), and Chris Chew (bass) -- continue to lace their brand of blues with a rough rock & roll edge (witness the searing guitars on "Moonshine"), and Electric Blue Watermelon is often as eclectic as its name. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band offer a New Orleans-style funeral march as a coda to "Horseshoe," and fellow Southerner Al Kapone adds some menacing raps to "No Mo" and "Stompin' My Foot," which also features Robert Randolph on pedal steel guitar.
"We've always experimented with rap, and Al's been around Mississippi as long as we have," Dickinson says. "We just played him the songs and let him do his thing."
The North Mississippi Allstars kick off a U.S. tour tonight in Colorado.