For the past decade or so, Mississippian Jimbo Mathus has all-too-quietly been cranking out some of the finest roots rock around, each successive album delving deeper into southern roots music and melding it together in complementary concoctions that gratify the heart, hips and head.
His latest, Dark Night of the Soul, is his second for the Oxford-based Fat Possum records and follows nicely with last yearâ€™s White Buffalo.Â Assistance from then-producer, now-guitarist Eric â€œRoscoeâ€ Ambel (Del Lords, Bottlerockets) is one common thread. But another is Mathusâ€™ constant maturation as a songwriter and sonic alchemist. After all those years of chewing up the roots of southern music, the resultant product of that mastication is a fiery, spitting stream of pure rock â€˜n roll.
Mathus shows here again that he is perhaps our greatest modern practitioner of such fusion. He shifts effortlessly from the deeply grooving, Metersesque funk of â€œFire In the Canebrakeâ€ to the honky-tonk Americana of â€œWriting Spider.â€ There are touches of soul, blues and country everywhereâ€” the raw ingredients for pure, primal rock â€˜n roll.
As someone starting with ingredients fresh from the source, itâ€™s not surprising that Mathus reaches a conclusion that other legendary followers have, though often with even more profound results. The relentless boogie of â€œRock & Roll Trashâ€ out-Stones the Rolling Stones, the crushing feedback of â€œBurn The Shipsâ€ is crazier than Crazy Horse, and the sweeping, majestic title track is an epic that finds Mathus holding forth like a southern Springsteen. Seriously.
Elsewhere, the mash-ups transcend their constituent ingredients. For instance, the soul shouting of â€œWhite Angelâ€ drifts into atmospheric hypnogogic asides while being straddled by muscular guitar heroics. He achieves elusive melancholy ache with â€œMedicineâ€ and ghostly pleading on â€œButcher Bird.â€
Behind this alchemy is a penchant for storytellingÂ The namesake of â€œHawkeye Jordanâ€ is a richly drawn character that goes beyond the moonshiner clichÃ©s a lazier observer might rely on. â€œCasey Caught The Cannonballâ€ is a worthy update to the folk legend. The tender â€œShine Like A Diamondâ€ began as the wedding vows he wrote to his wife. Throughout, thereâ€™s wrenching over absolution, redemption and past troubles.
Recorded at Dial Back Studios in Water Valley, Miss., Mathus is again backed by the excellent Tri-State Coalition (Eric Carlton, keyboards; Matt Pierce, guitar and drummer Ryan Rogers). He also welcomes guest players Ambel (guitar), bassist Matt Patton (Dexateens, Drive-By Truckers) and pedal steel player Kell Kellum.
Together, they whoop up a ruckus and conjure real rock â€˜n roll straight from the source, the kind of gut-punching, hip-shaking record that is a real gem because it carries with it a kind of depth and soul all too rare in a landscape that seems to value such authenticity less and less.
Dark Night Of The Soul is out now on Fat Possum Records.