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Arts & Entertainment Preview | December 2001 | Sponsored by Chrysler

Classical Music

by Bob Blumenthal and Charles M. Young

Allstar Boogie

The North Mississippi Allstars

The North Mississippi Allstars

The North Mississippi Allstars know how to boogie. That could be the entire review, except that it doesn't convey nearly enough enthusiasm. The North Mississippi Allstars really, really, really know how to boogie. Even ten more reallys would not convey sufficient enthusiasm for their de profundis grasp of all that is boogiosity. You could have a really for every sand grain in the Ganges and it would be but a miniscule fraction of the thousands of millions of billions of reallys it would take to register the merest blip on the Official Boog-o-meter that registers the North Mississippi Allstars as one hundred and doesn't register all other musicians because they are unworthy to appear on the same Official Boog-o-meter. Imagine R. L. Burnside crossed with ZZ Top crossed with the early Yardbirds crossed with four or five of your favorite garage bands from 1966 and give them all high SAT scores. Even that doesn't convey it, but it'll have to do. After a first album of mostly classic blues covers last year, brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson step forth on 51 Phantom (Tone-Cool) as great songwriters and arrangers, beating their riffs to death and then beating another riff to death at just the right moment. They have that rock-and-roll sense of if-it-sounds-good-play-it-again, and that early blues sense of it's-got-to-swing—and that's boogie. Produced by their father, Jim Dickinson (Ry Cooder, the Replacements, Mud Boy and the Neutrons), the album has guitar tone for miles, guitar tone that large pharmaceutical companies should bottle and overcharge for, because it cures all that ails your internal organs. Boogie on. Really. —C.M.Y.

A Trio's Progress

When Brad Mehldau released The Art of the Trio, Volume 1, in 1996, the title seemed presumptuous for a twenty-six-year-old pianist who had only one previous album to his credit. Yet Mehldau was blessed with two partners, the bassist Larry Grenadier and the drummer Jorge Rossy, who could alternately track and parry his complex harmonic tangents and darting rhythmic impulses; and together they created an ensemble profile that quickly distanced them from such oft-cited models as the trios of Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett. A distinct air of intellectual challenge surrounds Mehldau's music, as one might expect from someone who named his publishing company Werther and quotes the likes of Rilke and Rorty in liner notes; yet his group quickly revealed a capacity to connect with its audiences that has grown over time. Progression (Warner Brothers) is the fifth volume in Mehldau's Art of the Trio series, and, like two of its predecessors, was recorded in live performance. The two-disc set reveals a more concentrated, tightly coiled group sound and a lighter pulse than its predecessors, with lyricism bubbling to the surface in a less brooding spirit. Mehldau, Grenadier, and Rossy do not hesitate to remold venerable material such as "Alone Together" and "Long Ago and Far Away" into extended fantasies with fluid contours. They also include ballads with reflective unaccompanied piano at their centers, originals that unfold in bright surges, and a more resolute version of "River Man" than the one heard on Songs (volume three) which retains the haunted quality of composer Nick Drake's sepulchral original. —B.B.

A Way With Words

Dan Bern has such a sharp sense of humor that some of his songs teeter on the edge of being novelty singles. On New American Language (Messenger Records), his fourth album, he dresses up his lyrics with first-rate production and achieves something worthy of the adjective Dylanesque, as opposed to Dr. Dementoesque. His voice is quite Dylanesque in its phrasing, though less nasal and more agreeable, but it mostly comes in the way his wit subordinates to the song, and not vice versa. That's the way it ought to be, because he writes wonderful, surreal songs assembled from the detritus of American popular culture and intense personal experience. His melodies ain't bad, either. Under all that nicely turned language and music, Bern keeps returning to the theme of violence, as if surreptitiously wiggling a sore tooth. "Commandment Three says Do Not Kill / Amendment Two says Blood Will Spill," he sings in his epic "Alaska Highway." It's a funny song about meeting Leonardo DiCaprio and Eminem and a whole series of unlikely celebrities on a journey north to ecstasy while enduring the pain of the many contradictions of American culture. Bern has the sensitivity to be appalled by the violence we do to ourselves—physical, verbal, and economic—but manages to dance around it instead of wallowing. His other epic "Thanksgiving Day Parade" closes the album on a liberating note reminiscent of "Like a Rolling Stone," promising joy, for a moment at least, in full awareness of mortality. A musician can't deliver anything more. —C.M.Y.

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Bob Blumenthal is a jazz critic for The Boston Globe.
Charles M. Young reviews music for Playboy and other publications and for

Photograph of The North Mississippi Allstars: Big Hassle.

Copyright © 2001 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.