Phantom 51 (Tone Cool)

North Mississippi Allstars 

Phantom 51 (Tone Cool)

With their choice of a highway-sign cover shot for the North Mississippi Allstar's 51 Phantom, brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson seem to understand the long road that stretches out before them. The talented guitarist and drummer team with bassist Chris Chew to explore what lies at the crossroads of Southern gospel, Memphis rockabilly, Delta blues and straight-ahead rock.

The Allstars' 2000 debut, Shake Hands With Shorty, featured some of the edgiest blues-rock to emerge from Memphis in years, earning the group a loyal following and a Grammy nod. On 51 Phantom, Luther and Cody, under the careful eye of their father, former Sun Studios producer Jim Dickinson, attempt to push their stylistic boundaries. The album's opening title track kicks off with a healthy dose of diesel and dust, and "Sugartown," a dirty gutter-blues tune, showcases Luther's impressive guitar chops and Cody's fatback drumming.

Unfortunately, other tracks fall into the realm of Southern-rock cliché and jam-band aimlessness. The obvious Allman Brothers gestures of the gospel-rock number "Ship" reveal the limitations of the group's vocals, which could benefit from a couple shots of whiskey, a cigarette or two and maybe just a few years of hard living. Likewise, "Storm" starts to smell a bit Phishy after a while, an impression only worsened by the sitar-like guitar effects and disposable lyrics.

While the Allstars' attempts at diversity are commendable, the group stretches its mojo a bit thin. But 51 Phantom's eclectic attack suggests that a great album might not be too far down the backwoods blacktop. Like preparers of a good roadhouse stew, the Allstars just need to let all the ingredients simmer in the pot a little longer.

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