Review: North Mississippi Allstars fly high on ‘Set Sail’

“Set Sail,” North Mississippi Allstars (New West Records)

It takes hard work to sound this relaxed.

The North Mississippi Allstars have mastered their métier and pin the meter on “Set Sail.” The 10 tunes from brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson and their casual collective are loose but tight, playful and joyful, high-flying but grounded in a groove.

It’s a family affair, and Luther channels his inner Sly Stone leading two- and three-part vocal arrangements that include Lamar Williams Jr., son of Allman Brothers bassist Lamar Williams Sr. The singalong vibe creates a hippy glow, and Luther sounds as if he has his feet up as he sings “feeling laid back” on the swamp romp “Bumpin’.”

The pulse comes courtesy of Cody, whose economical drumming style could coax a bouncy beat from a cooked spaghetti noodle smacked against an appliance manual. He needs just a few strokes kicking off the title cut to establish the album’s funk foundation, and shines especially bright on “Juicy Juice,” a funny hip-shaker that might make Prince blush.

The Dickinsons are always generous about sharing the spotlight, and R&B veteran William Bell draws on his Stax roots taking the lead vocal on “Never Want to Be Kissed,” which swings on a bed of both strings and horns. Sharisse Norman helps with call-and-response vocals on the dance tune “See the Moon,” and John Medeski contributes keyboard colors on two cuts.

The closing tune, “Authentic,” explains how the brothers do what they do: “We be funky naturally.” They make it sound so easy.

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