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MISSISSIPPI BURNING: North Mississippi Allstars aren't your average blues band in the same way that the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion isn't your average blues band. To be sure, the two sound decidedly different. JSBX infuses its blues with punk energy and a white-boy blues shtick that some have likened to modern-day minstrelsy, while NMAS tend to play it straighter and more reverent, trad blues-rock with enough of an edge to appeal to those weaned on punk. (In fact, the band's singer/guitarist and drummer, brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson, respectively, did time in a punk outfit before forming NMAS with high-school buddy Chris Chew on bass.) But the two bands share a modern, sideways approach to blues tradition.

Upon its release in 2000, Fred Mills wrote aptly in these pages of the band's debut, Shake Hands With Shorty (Tone Cool Records): "The band simultaneously channels crusty rural blues, shake-a-tail-feather electric mojo and psychedelicized Southern Rock-cum-jamband boogie." The release got the band a hailstorm of media attention: live TV appearances, plum gigs with everyone from Steve Earle to Gov't Mule, raves in Rolling Stone and multitudinous other mags, including an unusually large spread in Time magazine. (And as a bonus attention-grabber, the Dickinson boys' father is none other than famed producer Jim Dickinson, noted for his work with the Rolling Stones, Big Star and the Replacements, to name a few.)

If there was a shortcoming in the debut it was the nagging fact that all of the songs on Shorty were covers, but with the band's latest release, 51 Phantom (Tone-Cool), the situation has been remedied, as nine of the record's 11 tracks are self-penned. To their credit, it's tough to determine which ones are covers and which originals without consulting the liner notes. And while the album's overall sound is remarkably consistent with the debut--you get the feeling that NMAS could cover a J. Lo tune and make it sound like a meeting of Cream and the Allmans--there are a few surprises, notably the subtlety the band has discovered on less-rockin' numbers like the gorgeous ballad "Leavin'." Ultimately it's a great step forward from a group impressive enough the first time around.

Opening the NMAS show is none other than Tucson's Fourkiller Flats, which normally wouldn't merit mention--local bands open for touring ones all the time--except for the fact that the Tucson show is the first in a weeklong string of dates through the Western mountain states with the Allstars. The stint is the latest in a series of fortunate happenings for the band, which include consistent riding of alt-country mail-order company Miles of Music's sales chart with its self-titled debut LP and an upcoming profile in the pages of No Depression magazine (written by Tucson Weekly contributor and ND contributing editor Linda Ray). Can you say "buzz?"

North Mississippi Allstars and Fourkiller Flats perform at 8 p.m. on Sunday, January 27 at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Advance tickets are available for $10 at Zip's University and all Zia locations. For more info call 798-3333.


SAX AND THE CITY: Do you love the saxophone? I mean, do you reeeally love the saxophone? If so, take note (but if your tastes in sax-jazz lean toward the Kenny G/Najee school of crap, please proceed to the next item): The Brooklyn Sax Quartet comprises seasoned veterans tenorist David Bindman (Talking Drums, his own trio), baritonist Fred Ho (Afro-Asian Music Ensemble), altoist Sam Furnace (Julius Hemphill Sextet, blues guitarist Johnny Copeland and a previous longtime member of Mongo Santamaria's band), and sopranoist Chris Jonas (Anthony Braxton, William Parker's Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, Cecil Taylor). Boston Globe jazz scribe Bob Blumenthal has called this "one of the strongest reed units anywhere, one that is focused in ensemble and distinctively individualistic in solos." Would you expect anything less from the fine folks at Zeitgeist, now in its fifth season of promoting exceptional cutting-edge jazz shows?

The Brooklyn Sax Quartet performs at 8 p.m. on Thursday, January 24 at the Mat Bevel Institute, 530 N. Stone Ave. Advance tickets are available for $10 at CD Depot and Antigone Books. They'll be $12 at the door. For information call 882-7154


ANTI-DEATH METAL: Even those who support the death penalty might not know that, unlike most states (not to mention most civilized countries), Arizona does not have laws in place to protect its juveniles from facing the chair. Instead, the books dictate that such decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis, thereby omitting absolutely no one, regardless of age, from a possible death sentence. And lest you think such cases are rare at best, keep in mind the state has already executed two juveniles, and five others are currently on death row.

Several local individuals and organizations are rightfully pissed off, and this week they put their time and energies where their mouths are to hold an event called Stop Executing Arizona Children. Organized by Students Against the Death Penalty, the Coalition of Arizonans to Abolish the Death Penalty, Skrappy's and SOLPAE, the event will feature performances from local bands X-Cult Commission, We Never Sleep, Gat*Rot, Shot Starr, Los Locos Gringos, Burning Troy and DJ Bonus. That's all interspersed with a number of speakers, including University High senior Trudi Connolly, Maryanne's Robin Johnson, and James Hamm, who was recently fully exonerated from a previous murder conviction for which he served time. The organizers hope to raise money and awareness in the cause to propose legislation to prevent further execution of minors in Arizona, and to them I say, "Hats off."

Stop Executing Arizona Children runs from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday, January 26, at the DeMeester Outdoor Performance Center. Admission is $2, and donations will be accepted.


ROOTS ROUNDUP: Rockabilly diva-cum-rootsy singer/songwriter Rosie Flores will team up this week with a pair of likeminded troubadours of Americana, Mark Insley and Rick Shea, for a show that will likely feature a songwriters set featuring all three. Each is a formidable practitioner of the craft, and the night should send all attendees home with a warm, belly-fulla-whiskey feeling.

Rosie Flores, Mark Insley and Rick Shea perform at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, January 26 at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. For further details call 798-1298.

Fronted by the enigmatic and charismatic Tim Gallagher (aka Hank Topless), local gothic country combo Topless Opry sets up shop at 7 Black Cats this week for a gig in anticipation of its forthcoming debut CD, due for release next month. It'll perform along with opener Big Galoot at 9 p.m. on Thursday, January 24 at 7BC, 260 E. Congress St. For more information call 670-9202.

And Vaudeville plays host to a pair of local roots shows this week as well. The club (and its lovely new wooden floor) will feature a night of harmonica blues courtesy of Tom Walbank and Doug Smith at 9 p.m. on Thursday, January 24, while rockabilly roustabouts Al Foul and the Shakes hold court at 9 p.m. on Friday, January 25. Vaudeville is located at 110 E. Congress St., and you can call 622-3535 for details.

Though few have even heard of it, let alone heard it, avid blues vinyl collectors could expound upon the virtues of a 1962 45 called "Midnight Shuffle" by Chicago drummer Jump Jackson, and specifically the smoking guitar solo found therein. That solo was played by an uncredited player by the name of Craig Horton, who in recent decades had drifted into obscurity save a few guest appearances on others' records in the '80s.

But a few years ago in Oakland, his home for the last 35 years, he was coaxed into performing once again by a local drummer who had hired young guitar hotshot Rusty Zinn, taking a brief break from touring, to back him. Before the night was over, Zinn recognized the guitarist's style and asked Horton if he'd ever heard of "Midnight Shuffle." The performance led to a friendship that led to Zinn producing the majority of last year's critically acclaimed In My Spirit (Big Daddy Records), Horton's debut album, released 40 years after he began his career.

Craig Horton performs at 9 p.m. on Thursday, January 24 at Boondocks Lounge, 3306 N. First Ave. Admission is $6 in advance and for TBS members, and will be $9 at the door. For more details call 690-0991.

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