With three studio LPs in their ass pocket, the North Mississippi Allstars finally have produced an album of what seems to be their natural forte — live music. And they do so with general success. Hill Country Revue is a collection of 14 songs performed by the band and various collaborators at 2004’s Bonnaroo, an increasingly popular music festival in Manchester, Tennessee.
The lineup eventually reached nearly two dozen, so it would be inefficient to drop the names of all the artists who appear on this album. Suffice to say that the Burnsides (blues guitarist and vocalist R.L., his sons and grandson) and the Dickinsons (pianist Jim and his two sons Luther and Cody) are major players. The performance, executed with stunning dexterity, spans from straight blues, to R&B, to Southern rock, to Allman-esque jam sessions. Just check Cody Dickinson’s electric washboard antics on “Psychedelic Sex Machine” or the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band on “Shimmy She Wobble.”
Unfortunately, as with many of even the best of jam sessions, this one begins to suffer from a touch of monotony. Chris Robinson’s guest appearance on “Boomer’s Story” gets things cooking again, much to the delight of the throngs of hemp-festooned concertgoers who are mostly waiting for Dave Mathews to take the festival stage.
But the guest spot by the Black Crows’ frontman, though it is the album’s strongest track, serves to show that the album suffers from a lack of vocals that are powerful enough to counterbalance the musicians’ prowess. Through most of the session, Burnside’s mike seems barely turned on — maybe purposefully, due to the effects of recent health problems on his voice. The Dickinsons simply lack the vocal force that strident blues-rock such as this works best with. Vocals aside, Hill Country Revue ultimately represents an impressive array of expertly played songs with some exceptional improvisation.