I guess I’ll be the one to say it. “Dude. They’re not that good.”
I am trying to understand why Polaris, the third release from North Mississippi Allstars, has garnered adoring press from coast to coast. Is it because the band — brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson, Chris Chew and newbie Duwayne Burnside, son of legendary R.L. Burnside, who influenced NMA — has stuck it out from Gutbucket to see it through to a third record? Is it a lot of industry hype, stemming, perhaps, from famous producer dad Jim Dickinson? Because I personally can’t get past the fact that some of these ditties would be perfect stock music for the WB when Dawson and Joey get back together, if just for the pop quality.
Take, for instance, the uber-dorky, “Kids These Daze”: “Kids these days have got it made / Hookin’ up to go to the all-age show / She’s looking hot in the parking lot / Kids these days.” Huh? You mean kids like you, NMA? Didn’t we leave those “daze” behind us in high school, when we scribbled words like that on our Trapper Keeper?
Or, how about this little gem from “Otay”: “Tell me what you’re all about / Cut me in and cut it out / It’s all good / Otay!” If “otay” is some southern colloquialism for OK, could you please just sing it that way? It’s really hard to take seriously. Who’s writing these rave reviews, anyway? That same guy who gave Mannheim Steamroller five stars?
OK. Let’s get serious for a moment. I do understand the talent part. These kids can rip apart Junior Kimbrough’s “Meet Me in the City” and be pretty decent about it. All four members are technical heavyweights in their own right. “Never in All My Days,” even with heard-it-before lyrics, is get-down groovy with an earnest blues-rock riff and fiery lead guitar work. Noel Gallagher even pipes in on a couple tracks: “One to Grow On,” a ballad about “loving the life I live,” is “easier” listening.
But I’m just not feeling the connection between the talent (NMA) and the product (Polaris). The Dickinson brothers must have thought synthesis will necessarily imply itself and bring the record together. For me, it never happened. I never bonded with this album. Instead of being innovative and up and coming, I think North Mississippi Allstars are really just re-hashing yesterday’s original material, to be ultimately filed under Sounds like Blues Traveler/Allman/Phish.
And therein lies the problem, NMA. I’ve heard it all before.