North Mississippi Allstars 51 Phantom

On this follow-up to last year's well-received debut, Shake Hands With Shorty, the All-Stars have branched out with an album of mostly original songs. Their confidence in building on the classic Delta blues themes that were the basis of Shorty is apparent right from the opening title track. Luther Dickinson proves he is growing into a master of both slide guitar and in capturing a swampy mood on songs like "Snakes In My Bushes" and "Sugartown." While some may charge he's just another white boy exploiting the recent interest in guys like R.L. Burnside and the late Junior Kimbrough, the abundance of originals on 51 Phantom makes it seem like Dickinson is out to silence those critics. I, for one, give him full props for coming close to making a great album, although the last half gets bogged down by the oddly unblues-y "Storm" and an earnest attempt at the Staples Singers' "Freedom Highway." There are also a few more ventures into Allman Brothers noodling territory, which, as on their debut, don't seem to fit with the All-Stars' modus operandi, yet things are salvaged by the wild electronica/blues rave-up "Mud." As long as the All-Stars stick with what they know best, they can't do wrong. (Tone-Cool)