Song: "Shake 'Em On Down"
Album: Shake Hands With Shorty
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Though many might argue that the true spirit of rock and roll has not been heard over the past few decades of music, the reality is that there are a number of bands recording that are clearly students of the earliest rock sounds. Finding many unique ways to blend the rockabilly and blues sounds into a modern sounding style, it is the bands that find the best balance which yield the finest results, and among the most alluring are the blues-punk-rock band, North Mississippi Allstars. As a trio, the band brings a sound that is far larger than groups twice their size, and yet it is the technical performance and sheer joy one can find within their music that makes the group so impressive. Deploying everything from standard folk-blues to some of the most original hard rock of the past few decades, one cannot help but get completely caught up in the sound and mood of North Mississippi Allstars, and one can argue that the band was at their finest all across their 2000 debut album, Shake Hands With Shorty. Filled with fantastic new approaches to songs by some of the most iconic blues singers in history as well as a number of equally impressive original compositions, the record was a refreshing breath within a music scene that was quickly becoming stale. Though there is not an off moment anywhere on the album, one can hear everything that makes North Mississippi Allstars so impressive within their 2000 cover of the classic song, "Shake 'Em On Down."
From the moment that "Shake 'Em On Down" begins, the almost celebratory mood that comes through on many of the songs by North Mississippi Allstars is completely evident, and it is led by the brilliant slide-guitar work of Luther Dickinson. While the slide-guitar has had its fair share of "greats" over the decades, it is the fact that Luther is able to retain such a distinctive sound throughout the drive. Whether he is bringing slightly distorted power chords or a fantastic solo, his playing is rarely anything short of spectacular, and the spirit underneath all his playing is one of the most impressive aspects of the entire song. It is this combination of the classic blues sound with a far more modern, almost punk-style approach that makes the band so distinctive, and it is the balance between these two sounds that shows just how talented a player lives within Luther Dickinson. Yet it is also the way that his playing interacts with the drumming of his brother Cody that defines the sound of the band. Due to the fact that it is only a trio, as well as the overall mix of the album, the drums have a far larger presence than most other bands, and this gives "Shake 'Em On Down" a fantastic stomp that one cannot resist. Rounding out the band is a dazzling bass performance from Chris Chew, and the funky groove that he injects throughout the song is where much of the energy of the track resides, completing what is nothing short of a phenomenal overall sound.
Feeding off of the amazing level of energy the band creates, one would be hard pressed to find a more appropriate term to describe the vocals of Luther Dickinson than "inspired." It is the spirit within his singing, as well as his clear natural vocal abilities that are almost instantly captivating, and one can argue that the most important element of "Shake 'Em On Down" is the interaction between Luther's singing and playing. Whether the vocals are driving his inspired guitar playing or vice-versa, it is the collective energy in these two parts of the song that completely captivate the listener. While the song structure itself is clearly able to fit within the realm of "classic" blues, it is again the way that he is able to place it into a more modern sound and context that makes the sound so impressive, and it is also this aspect which shows the clear link between the two styles. Again within the singing, one can hear a far more aggressive approach, and it is the balance that Luther strikes in this facet that further proves his exceptional level of musical talent. It is the fact that the song sounds so modern, and yet it remains one of the greatest "classic blues" songs ever written, and that this pairing manages to work so well that not only shows that The North Mississippi Allstars are far beyond most other bands, but also the fact that the blues clearly have a place within the current world of music.
Granted, the original version of "Shake 'Em On Down" which was written and recorded by the legendary Mississippi Fred McDowell cannot be touched in terms of impact or overall importance, and yet it is the fact that the band here completely makes the song a few composition that enables it to reach such heights. In many ways, it is this separation from the original that defines "how" a band should approach a cover song, as both the spirit and lyrics of the original recording remain intact, yet the musical arrangement and style are completely new. It is this spirit which one can argue is the most important aspect of any song, and even though this recording has a fast pace and far more upbeat mood, the blues-based feelings are still quite clear, and this is a testament to the exceptional talents of all three members of the band. There is a wonderfully raw and organic feel to the song that is rarely found in other bands of the time period, and it is this "rootsy" sound that one can see as part of the early return to the "lo fi" sound that occurred a few years following the release of Shake Hands With Shorty, and yet it also proves that at the end of the day, there is simply no replacement for real talent and love for the foundations of music. Though each of their albums is well worth owning, there is no question that The North Mississippi Allstars were at their finest on the first song of their debut album, 2000's, "Shake 'Em On Down."