The inspired programming of this quadruple bill put the North Mississippi Allstars on stage for virtually the entire night, first on their own, and then backing Charlie Musselwhite and Mavis Staples. Add the funky N’awlins keyboardist Joe Krown, and you have a recipe for a gumbo that will have folks dancing in the aisles. Luther and Cody Dickinson have found a great collaborator in left-handed bassist Chris Chew. There’s a lot of Chew, and he takes full advantage of his size and soulful voice to bring out the best in classic songs like “Dock of the Bay.” It’s usually not a good idea to mess with Otis Redding, and it is especially unwise to compete with him on his most well-known number, but Chew sounded great and succeeded in bringing back the deep feeling in “Dock’s” powerful lyrics. When he leaned into the song’s penultimate verse, Chew brought out the latent yearning for social justice and freedom lurking beneath what otherwise sounds like a purely personal lament:
Look like nothing’s gonna change
Everything still remains the same
I can’t do what ten people tell me to do
So I guess I’ll remain the same.
This sensitive, intelligent feat of spiritual reincarnation set the tone for the entire evening, which followed Mavis Staples’s recent recording with Ry Cooder, We’ll Never Turn Back, in paying tribute to the sounds and sentiments of the civil rights era. Staples was true in rip-roaring, hand-waving gospel form as she charged through such classics as the Band’s “The Weight.” The North Mississippi Allstars had a great time with this one, each chiming in for a verse with a creditable impression of each member of the Band, respectively.
Charlie Musselwhite was superb on his own “Stranger in a Strange Land” and the recent, Hurricane Katrina-inspired, “Black Water.” Musselwhite also lent a hand on the more ecstatic Staples throwdowns, which peaked in a particularly memorable and jammed out version of “I’ll Take You There.” Pops would be proud.