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Face-melting blues
Cody Dickinson and Hill Country Revue play the Live Wire
Cody Dickinson, center, and Hill Country Revue

After a decade of whacking the hell out of his drum kit with the North Mississippi Allstars, Cody Dickinson is pumped to be playing guitar and singing with his “other” band, Hill Country Revue.

Hill Country plays Thursday at the Live Wire Music Hall, on a bill with San Francisco jammers Tea Leaf Green.

“It’s so revitalizing, creatively,” Dickinson enthuses. “Who would have known changing instruments would crank up my creativity like this? It’s a fresh look on somethin’ I’ve been doing for a long time; going onstage and entertaining people is what I love to do. It’s what I’m good at. But at the same time, you get kind of stuck in ruts.

“Drumming is a great place to come from, approaching other instruments. Because in one way or another, they’re all rhythmic. All my drumming techniques and ideas apply to the guitar, and the piano, and the washboard and every other instrument I play.”

Hill Country Revue is about to drop its second album. Zebra Ranch, named for the state–of–the–art recording studio built on the Dickinson family ranch in Hernando, Miss.

Cody’s father, legendary Memphis–area musician and producer Jim Dickinson, passed away just over a year ago.

Nearly all of the recordings made by the North Mississippi Allstars – Cody on drums, his brother Luther Dickinson on guitar, and bassist Chris Chew – were made at Zebra Ranch Studios.

This new record, Dickinson promises, is the icing on an already monstrous cake.

“I’m so proud of it, man,” he says. “It’s the most coherent, vital piece of work I’ve ever done. It’s very face–melting, just straight–ahead southern rock ‘n’ roll with blues influences.

“It shows a band that’s found their own identity. After a year or two of playing every night on tour, you start to take on a sound that’s all your own. And with a group of musicians, that’s impossible to fake. You can’t manufacture that – it has to come from hard work and a chemistry among musicians. That’s what we’ve done, and I’m so proud of that. And I’m real excited with the results.”

Hill Country Revue – with Kirk Smithhart on lead guitar, drummer Ed “Hot” Cleveland, singer/blues harpoon man Dan Coburn and bassist Doc Samba – plays the smoking hot “trance” blues of North Mississippi, raw, red, uncompromising.

“You know, when people think of blues they tend to be nostalgic,” Dickinson says. “But the truth is, the hill country blues is alive and well. It’s a very modern thing here.

“Hill Country through and through has been such a learning experience. And a truly enjoyable experience playing with these guys. I really like this group of guys. They’re super–talented.”

Dickinson recently joined forces with a Memphis instrument manufacturer to design and produce the Woogieboard, an electrified, effects–ready version of the washboard, one of his favorite percussion tools.

“The washboard is such a fun instrument – kids like it, girls love it, it just sort of defined me as an artist,” he explains. “I started having people coming up and asking me to sign their washboards, and some of them were electrified. They were making them themselves.

“They gave me the idea. I always wanted to sort of manufacture one as a real instrument. I just wanted to give the electric washboard a legitimate sort of design, as opposed to what I’d been doing – I’d just been taping microphones on the back. Real homemade, and sometimes they’d fall apart and stuff like that.”

The circle, meanwhile, is unbroken.

Luther Dickinson, who’s universally considered one of today’s most exciting rock and blues guitarists, joined the Black Crowes full–time in 2007.

But the North Mississippi Allstars, his brother insists, haven’t packed it in. As a matter of fact, the band will have a new album out in 2011 – and anyway, Luther often sits in with Hill Country Revue.

The Dickinson brothers sometimes perform as DUOLUCO – they recently opened a few dates for Robert Plant.

The wild card here is bassist Chris Chew, the third member of the NMAS. Chew’s interplay with the Dickinsons is an integral part of that band’s considerable legend.

The bear–like bassman was a founding member of Hill Country Revue. But he’s not in the ranks any longer.

“This year, Chew went off and started driving tour buses,” Dickinson explains. “He’s just too busy. So we have Doc Samba playing bass.

“I just did a session with Chew last week in Nashville. It was great to play with him again. It’s like going home, man, it’s easy. He was incredibly helpful with getting Hill Country off the ground. He really stuck with me.

“The bummer is that now we’re doing international festivals and all kind of things, and Chew can’t make it.
Dickinson laughs. “He’s chasing that paper, man.”

Hill Country Revue

With: Tea Leaf Green

Where: Live Wire Music Hall, 307 W. River St.

When: At 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 26

Tickets: $12 advance, $15 day of show

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