North Mississippi Osborne lights up Crescent Ballroom

Downtown Phoenix was treated to the warped blues stylings of the North Mississippi Allstars and Anders Osborne on Tuesday night


Jeremy Beren/Scottsdale Chronicle

North Mississippi Allstars guitarist Luther Dickinson plays during a concert at Phoenix’s Crescent Ballroom.

Jeremy Beren, Editor-in-Chief

Hernando, Mississippi is the seat of DeSoto County in the state’s northern portion, but other than that, it isn’t known for a whole lot. However, Hernando is home for one of today’s premier blues rock acts: the North Mississippi Allstars.

Their tour in support of their new album “Freedom & Dreams,” recorded with New Orleans-based guitarist Anders Osborne, arrived in Phoenix on Tuesday night. A three-hour marathon show ensued, and a packed crowd at the Crescent Ballroom downtown delighted in the extended show, which featured sets by both the NMA and Osborne.

The former kicked off the proceedings with a trio comprised of brothers Cody (drums/keyboard/electric washboard) and Luther Dickinson (guitar and vocals), along with Lightnin’ Malcolm on the bass guitar.  As he would do so often, Luther Dickinson stole the show with his electrifying guitar solos. Many mainstream music fans know him for his work with the Black Crowes several years ago, but his work with that group pales in comparison to what he does in this group.

Dickinson’s playing, particularly on the slide guitar, possessed the breathtaking combination of melody and intrepid speed. Furthermore, it appeared effortless as he worked his way through the 15-year-old NMA catalog. At one point, Dickinson even ditched his Gibson guitar array for a cigar box guitar (which is exactly what it sounds like).

The music itself was indelibly influenced by the blues, and rhythmically bore some similarities to a style known as the boogie. It also contained Southern rock elements popularized by acts such as the Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Eventually, Osborne and his group began their set. Born and raised in Sweden, but based in New Orleans since the 1980’s, Osborne is renowned for his ambitious and impassioned guitar work. Indeed, his music lived up to that billing. It was heavier, moodier and more atmospheric than NMA’s set, and at times it leaned more towards extended, all-encompassing Grateful Dead-style jams, which was particularly evident on the song “Dyin’ Days,” a track found on “Freedom & Dreams.”

Osborne was joined on stage by Dickinson and the NMA for the final hour-plus. NMA’s rollicking blues and Osborne’s more adventurous, extended numbers did not seem a natural fit at first, but the musicians had undeniable chemistry. Dickinson picked his spots a bit more carefully when paired with Osborne and his occasionally-furious solos, but the quality of his play didn’t waver. Things got funky at the end of the combined set, as the boisterous stomp of Osborne’s “On the Road to Charlie Parker” served as the finale–until the sextet reunited on stage to play “Goin’ Back to Mississippi” to end a massive seven-song encore.

Overall, this was an extremely engaging, winsome, and just plain fun show. The length–three-plus hours–did not deter the captivated attendees. It was an enjoyable night for everyone–and that included the musicians. They flashed smiles aplenty throughout the performance.