The late Memphis producer Jim Dickinson once called Jimbo Mathus â€œthe singing voice of Huck Finn.â€ Outside the South, Mathus is likely best known as the ringleader of the defunct hyper-ragtime outfit Squirrel Nut Zippers, or as the catalyst for Buddy Guyâ€™s breakthrough Sweet Tea in 2001 and Guyâ€™s Grammy-winning Blues Singeralbum.
This July, Mathus will soon release a six-song vinyl EP on the Big Legal Mess label titled Blue Light, which he recorded with producer Bruce Watson at Watsonâ€™s Water Valley, Miss., studio, Dialed Back Sound.
Blue Light perfectly captures Mathusâ€™ style of Southern musical alchemy. From the proto garage rock of â€œHaunted Johnâ€ (â€œup and down Saint Charles/rides the streetcar all night longâ€), to the sideways-with-the-law Southern rock of â€œBlue Lightâ€ to the dead-end gospel-fueled country weeper of â€œBurn the Honky Tonk,â€ Mathus shows the diversity of his vision. The conviction of his singing and storytelling will make you believe every word is true. â€œIâ€™m singing from absolute experience on this recording. Raw stories of real events,â€ he says.
Engineer Lynn Bridges and Dial Back Sound enhanced the artistâ€™s raw, rough and tumble approach, adding warm textures and mournful pedal steel to make a sound akin to a late â€™60s roadhouse jukebox.
In his native Mississippi, and throughout the South, Mathus is recognized as the prolific songwriter of born-in-the-bone Southern music, the torchbearer for Deep South mythology and culture. Think Delta highways, bowling-pin Budweisers and â€œinterplanetary honky-tonkâ€ for the masses.
His credits include the North Mississippi Allstarsâ€™ Electric Blue Watermelon, and he was Grammy-nominated as a member of Luther Dickinson & the Sons of Mudboy for the Jim Dickinson memorial album Onward and Upward. Mathus also recently joined forces with Luther and Alvin Youngblood Hart, forming the retro-roots â€œsupergroupâ€ the South Memphis String Band.
Beyond his solo work, Mathus hit paydirt with fans and critics alike in 2011 with the release of Confederate Buddha, on which heâ€™s backed by what he says is â€œthe best band in the land,â€ the Tri-State Coalition.Â Featuring solid talent cut from the same Delta cloth, the bandâ€™s sound is â€œ . . . a true Southern amalgam of blues, white country, soul and rock â€™nâ€™ roll,â€ according to bandleader Mathus.Â The group formed when Mathus was living in Memphis, Tennessee, and for nearly a decade, heâ€™s been working with these same players â€” fellow Mississippians Justin Showah (bass, vocals), Eric Carlton (keyboards) and Arkansan Matt Pierce (guitar).Â They brought in drummer Ryan Rogers last year, and together the boys laid down the sound that is White Buffalo, the forthcoming 2012 release from Jimbo Mathus & the Tri-State Coalition, produced by Eric â€œRoscoeâ€ Ambel (Steve Earle, The Bottle Rockets, Del Lords).
Of the bandâ€™s recording, Mathus says, â€œWhite Buffalo is a collaboration with our producer, â€˜Roscoeâ€™ Ambel, who brought a fierceness, a keen edge to our sound.Â Iâ€™ve never been prouder of any recording.â€ Ambel offers, â€œThere is an effortless, natural feeling that comes from Jimbo & Tri-Stateâ€™s music that in todayâ€™s times cannot be mistaken for anything less than â€˜great.â€™â€
And this from Chris Robinson (The Black Crowes), writing in the liner notes for Confederate Buddha: â€œThe Confederate Buddha, the Katfish King, people have a lot of names on a riverboat. Just a little time to dream, dark and murky, only to emerge fire and brimstone. Lightning and kudzu wisdom and wine oh . . . Heâ€™s feeling fine, besides either you look cool with a gold tooth or you do not. So listen to the Mississippi mystic and believe . . .â€
JIMBO MATHUS TOUR DATES
Thurs., Aug. 23, 8 p.m. BRADFORDVILLE, FL Â Â Bradfordville Blues Club