On Hernando, their first album on their own label, North Mississippi Allstars attempt to strike a balance between a more ragged, stripped-down aesthetic and the oversized rock-star swagger and energy of their live shows. The result is an album of blistering, hard-driving blues-rock that, at times, sounds restrained by the relatively lo-fi production. What made NMA’s previous albums, particularly 2003’s Polaris, so distinctive is the way the band incorporated elements of R&B and hip-hop into the rhythmic structures of what would otherwise be straightforward Southern rock. While drummer Cody Dickinson and bassist Chris Chew still make for a formidable rhythm section, the arrangements on tracks like opener “Shake” and “Come Go with Me” are relatively conventional. It’s hardly a sea change in terms of the band’s sound, but these songs are a little more Led Zeppelin and a little less Otha Turner. The forcefulness of NMA’s playing would likely be enough to make up for this, but on “Keep the Devil Down” and “Mizzip,” it sounds as though the recording equipment wasn’t able to handle the band’s volume. The songs here are sure to fulfill their potential in a live show, but Hernando flattens too much of their reverb and distortion. Even when the arrangements lack inspiration, the material is as solid as on the band’s previous efforts and NMA performs that material with real gusto. Hernando is, in that regard, somewhat undone by its technical failings, but it speaks to what a solid outfit the band have matured into that the album is still worth a listen.
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