NORTH MISSISSIPPI ALLSTARS REACH FOR POLARIS
Following on the heels of two Grammy-nominated albums, the critically acclaimed North Mississippi Allstars will release a third album, "Polaris," Sept. 9. "Polaris" will be the first record released as a part of the North Mississippi Allstars' new deal with Tone-Cool/ATO Records.
"The first records were building blocks," guitarist Luther Dickinson said. "We've been thinking and talking about Polaris since 1999. We were on a three-record plan and we always knew that No. 3 would be our most ambitious album."
The North Mississippi Allstars built a reputation as the most intriguing act to emerge from the loam of Southern blues and roots rock, before even starting on its first album. Work, at that point, was largely a matter of imagination, but even as the group's first album, "Shake Hands With Shorty," was inspiring writers like Nick Tosches to hail the band as "a formidable and mesmerizing force," Luther Dickinson (guitar and vocals), bassist Chris Chew, and drummer/pianist/singer Cody Dickinson realized "Polaris" was their ultimate ambition -- the album that would reveal a kind of creativity that Shorty and the follow-up, "51 Phantom," only touched upon.
During the recording of "Polaris" the band drew more deeply from its roots -- roots that stem from growing up in the hills of Mississippi and from watching dad, legendary producer Jim Dickinson, produce albums for some of rock's most groundbreaking acts like The Replacements, Big Star and Spiritualized. All of this is represented on "Polaris," an album that includes appearances by the late, great Otha Turner and Noel Gallagher from Oasis.
The biggest influence on the direction of the Allstars' music has been the notable addition to the band of guitarist/vocalist Duwayne Burnside, son of blues statesman RL Burnside. Duwayne's cousin Cody Burnside also guests by adding rap to the final track on "Be So Glad." With Burnside giving the band a two-guitar attack, the Allstars recently showcased a much bigger sound at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
The Del McCoury Band has a new album ready for Aug. 12 release. Dad Del, his sons Ron (mandolin) and Rob (banjo), fiddler Jason Carter and bassist Mike Bub have become unlikely heroes of the American roots music phenomenon that has grown out of the jam band aesthetic. Over the dozen years that have passed since the McCourys relocated to Nashville from their long-time Pennsylvania home, they've been at the forefront of bluegrass outreach, earning critical acclaim and a growing audience through a unique combination of fidelity to the music's traditions -- including plenty of attention paid to the blues thread woven in by its creator, Bill Monroe -- and and a wide-ranging interest in material from outside the genre's sometimes narrow walls.
Kicking their campaign into high gear in 1999 with "The Mountain," an album recorded with alternative country hero Steve Earle, they've appeared with Earle and on their own on PBS and hip late night TV shows, traded licks with classical violinists on prime time network television, joined jam band favorites like Phish on stage, and toured extensively around the world, frequently appearing not only at bluegrass festivals but at rock clubs, too. The new album puts it all together with 14 songs that show off both sides of the ensemble's appeal.
Filled with the bedrock virtuosity and "high lonesome" sound that has typified bluegrass since the days of Monroe -- with whom the elder McCoury once played -- this album builds on past efforts with the broadest array of contemporary material the group has yet engaged. Following up on the success of their version of his signature "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," the band has turned again to singer-songwriter Richard Thompson for two more gems, while Charlie Stefl, who co-wrote "All Aboard," another hit from their most recent album, is back with the philosophical message of "Man Can't Live On Bread Alone."
Other cuts come from some of Nashville's most respected songwriters, including Verlon Thompson, Shawn Camp and the team of Delbert McClinton and Gary Nicholson, while bluegrass tradition is represented by IBMA Hall of Honor member Don Reno's "The Angels Singing," rendered in vintage fashion with just guitar and mandolin accompanying the group's gospel quartet. In a typically sly turn, Grammy-winning gospel singers, the Fairfield Four, are enlisted to harmonize on a haunting secular number, "It's Just The Night," and as in the past, Ronnie McCoury contributes an original instrumental, "Hillcrest Drive," that seamlessly blends old and new into three minutes and 19 seconds of unbeatable drive and precision.
FLOETRY NOMINATED FOR BET AWARDS
Floetry -- Marsha Ambrosius and Natalie Stewart -- have been nominated for two BET Awards: Best New Artist and Best Group. Awards will be announced June 24 at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. Increased sales momentum, fueled by top-of-the-chart radio airplay and BET/MTV/VH1 airplay, should net their debut, "Floetry" Gold album status in about 14 days. MTV just added "Say Yes," the second single from the album that has prompted a "neo-soul" revival.
"I understand the intention of the neo-soul category," said songwriter Ambrosius. "It's meant to describe the next generation of artists creating soul music."
"We don't feel we belong to a specific genre of music," Stewart added. "It's as if the industry asks an artist to be inspired enough to only write one kind of music. We view creativity as a continual spiral, not limited to anyone's expectations."
Floetry is preparing for a summer tour, just as "Say Yes" climbs to No. 2 on the Urban Charts and garners Top 10 airplay across the country. Ambrosius and Stewart, who garnered three Grammy nominations, two Soul Train Awards, and an NAACP Image Award nomination earlier this year, will appear at a concert celebrating the film music of Spike Lee and Terence Blanchard June 7 in Philadelphia.
DENNIS BROWN'S REGGAE REISSUED
Crown Prince of Reggae Dennis Brown was once more popular than his hero Bob Marley in their Jamaica homeland. Brown's three biggest albums finally will make their U.S. CD debuts, 20 years after being originally issued on "Dennis Brown: The Complete A&M Years" (A&M/UME), scheduled for release June 24.
All 30 tracks, each digitally remastered, are heard once again from his early '80s albums "Foul Play," "Love Has Found Its Way" and "The Prophet Rides Again." The Complete A&M Years also features liner notes by reggae historian and author David Katz. Brown scored numerous hits through the '70s, gaining fame in Jamaica and England. His move to A&M was a major step seeking more widespread success and his albums there reflect a more commercial approach.
"Foul Play" from 1981 includes such classics as "The Existence Of Jah," "I Need Your Love (Rasta Children)" and "The World Is Troubled." "Your Man" is one of many songs that still fill a dance floor. Re-cuts of "If I Follow My Heart" and "The Cheater" hold the conviction of their originals and "If I Had The World" is a love song in keeping with his standards. The title track is Brown at his funkiest. "On The Rocks" and "Come On Baby" reach toward other shores, though both retain a Jamaican lyrical sensibility.
"Love Has Found Its Way," the 1982 follow-up, reached out even further with a slicker vibe. Still, "Handwriting On The Wall," "Weep & Moan," "Blood, Sweat And Tears," "Halfway Up, Halfway Down" and "Get Up" are tough political statements.
Side one of 1983's "The Prophet Rides Again" contains the most commercial tracks of his career, including "Out Of The Funk," "Jammin' My Way To Fame," "Save A Little Love For Me," "Wonders Of The World" and "Too Hot." Side two returns to his roots with the title track, "Historical Places (Ethiopia)" and "Shashamane Living (Country Living)" centered on Brown's Rastafari faith plus "Storms Are Raging" and the meditation "This Love Of Mine." Brown passed away at age 42 in 1999.
GREEN EYED SOUL
Ron Levy's Wild Kingdom is on tour in support of its new album, "Green Eyed Soul." Levy, a steady 25-year veteran of the blues scene, has played with B.B. King, Roomful of Blues, Karl Denson and others. In his capacities as organist, pianist, writer, arranger, sideman or soloist, producer and A&R man of more than 200 recording projects, Levy has been involved with traditional and contemporary blues, R&B, jazz, gospel, and "hard core" roots music from New Orleans, Memphis, New York, the West Coast, Texas and beyond.