Tag Archives: Jimbo Mathus

New album due from Jimbo Mathus

JimboFrom the gritty, chiming six-string stomp of opener “Shoot Out the Lights” to the angelic gospel choir and piano finale of “Love and Affection,” Jimbo Mathus’ new album Blue Healer is a flat-out, no holds barred, brawling, sprawling excursion through his deep musical soul.


Born and raised in North Mississippi, where the sound of the region’s blues and gospel blend with the echoes of rock and R&B from nearby Memphis, Mathus has become a vital link in the chain of great American music. He built the foundation of the ongoing old-timey/swing revival with unlikely ’90s hit-makers the Squirrel Nut Zippers. Then Mathus became an MVP indie producer and sideman who made his bones playing guitar on blues legend Buddy Guy’s seriously twisted electric groundbreaker Sweet Tea. He’s also a co-founder of the critically heralded South Memphis String Band, with fellow roots music rabble-rousers Luther Dickinson, of North Mississippi All Stars, and Alvin Youngblood Hart. And along the way he’s toured internationally and recorded under his own name and with his Tri-State Coalition band, leaving a dozen untamed, free-ranging albums in his wake.


Now the artist has created his absolute manifesto with Blue Healer. The 12-song set was co-produced by Mathus and Big Legal Mess/Fat Possum house studio maven Bruce Watson at Dial Back Sound in Water Valley, Mississippi, an all-analog recording palace that’s perfect for Mathus’ blend of old-school tones and edgy, kinetic energy.


Check out “Shoot out the Lights” from Blue Healer: http://bit.ly/1AkOEFC


Jimbo Mathus & The Tri-State Coalition: Dark Night of the Soul

jimbocdFor 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 year’s White Buffalo.  Assistance from then-producer, now-guitarist Eric “Roscoe” Ambel (Del Lords, Bottlerockets) is one common thread. But another is Mathus’ 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 ‘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 “Fire In the Canebrake” to the honky-tonk Americana of “Writing Spider.” There are touches of soul, blues and country everywhere— the raw ingredients for pure, primal rock ‘n roll.

As someone starting with ingredients fresh from the source, it’s not surprising that Mathus reaches a conclusion that other legendary followers have, though often with even more profound results. The relentless boogie of “Rock & Roll Trash” out-Stones the Rolling Stones, the crushing feedback of “Burn The Ships” 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 “White Angel” drifts into atmospheric hypnogogic asides while being straddled by muscular guitar heroics. He achieves elusive melancholy ache with “Medicine” and ghostly pleading on “Butcher Bird.”

Behind this alchemy is a penchant for storytelling  The namesake of “Hawkeye Jordan” is a richly drawn character that goes beyond the moonshiner clichés a lazier observer might rely on. “Casey Caught The Cannonball” is a worthy update to the folk legend. The tender “Shine Like A Diamond” began as the wedding vows he wrote to his wife. Throughout, there’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 ‘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.

Jimbo Mathus Illuminates his rock ‘n’ roll heart on Dark Night of the Soul

JM-DNOTS-COVERFew studio albums have had a birth process like Jimbo Mathus new release, Dark Night of the Soul. To create his ninth album, the singer-songwriter spent nearly a year going to Dial Back Sound Studio, near his home in Taylor, Mississippi, to work on new tunes. Dial Back Sound, however, isn’t just any conveniently located studio, but one operated by Fat Possum Records’ Bruce Watson, who offered Mathus this extended opportunity to create the follow-up to his highly-regarded Fat Possum debut White Buffalo.

Like having a regular gig at a neighborhood bar, Mathus would drop by the studio every couple of weeks and hash out song ideas with engineer/instrumentalist Bronson Tew. Mathus ended up with around 40 songs and Watson heard them all. “He acted as my editor,” Mathus explains. “I really trust him. He would come in and say, ‘I like this or could we change a little of that?’”

Mathus enjoyed the casual, low-pressure studio environment but also felt challenged to bring new material to the table every week. “I would pull out scraps of paper from my wallet that normally I would dump in the trash and those would be the ones that Bruce liked.” The ones Watson would gravitate to be the darker songs — the ones, Mathus confides, he would typically keep private. “So collaboratively,” he says, “we brought them to life.”  This process resulted in his most personal and hardest rocking album to date. While on earlier releases, the Mississippi-bred Mathus tended to showcase his encyclopedic facility with Southern roots music, this time, however, he really wanted to play his songs unselfconsciously — “letting them just fall off the bone.”

This emphasis on “more ultra chrome and less sepia tones,” as Mathus calls it, arrives on the title track that opens the album. Fiery electric guitars match the artist’s emotionally wrenching vocals as he pleads to be taken to his “sweet solution.” A similar search for salvation fuels the impassioned soul-rocker “White Angel,” while a more rollicking spirit imbues the ’70s Southern rock-flavored “Rock and Roll,” where the piano is pounded as hard as the guitars. “Shine Like a Diamond,” a love ode to Mathus’ wife Jennifer, sparkles like an old Van Morrison-style gem, complete with some “sha-la-la” near the end.

Elizabeth DeCicco-6Dark Night grows funkier in its second half with tracks like “Fire in the Canebrake” and “Casey Caught the Cannonball.” Mathus’ take on the Casey Jones legend (which he wrote from facts he got off of a roadside marker) conjures up memories of The Band, as does another Dixie-based tale, “Hawkeye Jordan.” The album ends in a rather dark place with the closing tracks: the junkie lament “Medicine” and eerie eulogy “Butcher Bird.”

On most of Dark Night’s tracks, Mathus’ acoustic guitar is surrounded by the electric guitar played by his longtime sideman Matt Pierce and pal Eric “Roscoe” Ambel.  The album’s raw, rock sound arose from the fact that most of the tracks were recorded live in the studio with Mathus’ band, the Tri-State Coalition, which he found “very liberating way of doing it.” “The intensity you’re hearing on this album,” he proclaims, “is the spirit of a band that is putting its shit on the line.”

While Mathus plays less of the musical historian role on his new album, his love and knowledge of roots music still radiates throughout his songs. “Knowing about some banjo part on a Gus Cannon record informs me on writing a song like ‘Dark Night of the Soul,’ believe it or not,” Mathus reveals. “It’s all in my frame of reference and my musical DNA.”

This musical DNA has been in him since birth. His father and relatives were all skilled musicians who filled the house with old folk, country and blues tunes. By the age of eight, Mathus was joining them on mandolin and by his teenage years had learned guitar and piano. High school led to playing in punk and new wave bands, the most notable being Johnny Vomit and the Dry Heaves and The End, with future Oblivian Jack Yarber. Post high school, Mathus studied Philosophy at Mississippi State University before leaving to travel around America. In doing so he worked various jobs, including an influential stint as a barge tankerman on the mighty Mississippi River. Settling in Chapel Hill, N.C., he drummed in the cult rock band Metal Flake Mother prior to starting the Squirrel Nut Zippers. This ahead-of-its-time retro roots band scored a hit with “Hot” and performed at President Clinton’s second Inauguration and the 1996 Summer Olympics. Following the Zippers’ split, Mathus worked with such noted artists such as Buddy Guy and Elvis Costello, and collaborated with North Mississippi Allstars guitarist Luther Dickinson and Alvin Youngblood Hart in the South Memphis String Band. He also recorded his own albums (including one dedicated to his childhood nanny Rosetta Patton, the daughter of Delta blues icon Charley Patton).

With the South being so central to his life, it’s no surprise that Mathus and his band are very popular there. “I could stay in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana and never have to leave,” he admits, “but the point is I want people to hear this album — to bring a little gris-gris to the rest of America.”

Jimbo Mathus’ Fresh Batch of Catfish

Seasoned Hill Country troubadour lets loose and gets weird on mesmerizing new album, White Buffalo.


It scarcely takes a moment into a conversation with Jimbo Mathus before it feels like you’ve known him forever. The chat with the Mississippi musician, on a self-pronounced mission of bringing “catfish music to the masses,” flows with an easy grace and open exchange. Perhaps familiarity is bred in Mathus’ disarming Southern drawl and quick wit, or maybe it comes from name recognition over the past 20-or-so years with some of the best in Southern boogie and blues music. Yet, you have reached Mathus at home in his native north Mississippi hill country as a new day dawns in his always unique musical trajectory. “It feels almost like I’m starting over,” Mathus says.


Born in the Summer of Love (August 1967), Mathus  first ventured into a  studio setting and made his first professional records in 1983 at Sam Phillips’ famous Sun Studios, before finding early found success with North Carolina-based swing band the Squirrel Nut Zippers. But reality’s disillusionment soon followed. “It got to just be too much BS,” he explains of his departure from the band 15 years ago. “Some of the people involved … success went to some of their heads, [they] started gettin’ all crazy.” Yet, any lingering bitterness is diffused by Mathus’ reflection that his formative years in the Squirrel Nut Zippers, chiefly in terms of deep roots music scholarship and exploration with the band, “put me [Mathus] on my natural course, that track I’ve always been on, of trying to discover what makes music what it is today.”


Jimbo Mathus 2The split begat Mathus’ move back home to Mississippi. In addition to soaking in the fertile soil of Magnolia State musical traditions (this time from an adult’s wizened perspective), he toured for five years starting in 2000 with blues legend Buddy Guy as well as performing and recording in various projects – including several highly-acclaimed solo efforts – as well as playing with the South Memphis String band with buddies Luther Dickinson and Alvin Youngblood Hart. Even given this solid track record, it’s the here and now that has Mathus most excited. “I have a great bunch behind me and we’ve made a great record,” he says of the Tri-State Coalition, with whom he shares a debut release on the highly regarded Mississippi-based label, Fat Possum, on January 22 with White Buffalo.

“It’s taken me five years to get this band to where I wanted it be, and now it’s here,” Mathus, 45, explains. “We can go from honky-tonk to heavy blues to rock ‘n’ roll. To do that, you gotta know a lot of styles. You can’t be a purist; but rather have a certain knowledge, a big-picture awareness.”


Proof of Mathus’ relatively small but devoted and connected fan base is in the pudding that is $16,000 raised via a Kickstarter campaign to record what would become White Buffalo. The album, in a one-word summation, is masterful. Mathus’ creation of this latest masterful album was aided by the Jimbo_Mathus_White Buffaloexpert production of Eric “Roscoe” Ambel (Steve Earle). Cooking up a batch of what he labeled “a big ol’ stew of Southern music,” White Buffalo is a departure for Mathus, as the songs veer from raging rockers to quaint country/folk tunes. Joined by the expert musicianship of the Tri-State Coalition — Matt Pierce (a rippin’ Telecaster guitar), Eric Carlton (keys), Ryan Rogers (drums), Terrence Bishop (bass) —Mathus takes the listener on one hell of a ride. “Run Devil Run” taps into a surreal hoodoo groove a la Night Tripper-era Dr.  John. The title track is a full-on rager, with gritty lyrics delivered with both a debauched and desperate flair delivered under booming guitar wails that soar with Hendrix-esque psychedelic flourishes. The narrative yarn spun in “Hatchie Bottom” befits a place in the long, proud Southern storyteller tradition.  “Useless Heart” imparts a tender, time-weary truth to the listener, while “Fake Hex,” another pure gem from the album shuffles along to a Rolling Stones boogie.


This frenetic, free-wheeling artistic approach parallels that of Mathus’ other creative ventures. With coloring work done by wife Jennifer, his visual art sparkles with some sort of crude, redneck genius (see: Confederate Buddha). Videos from White Buffalo tracks “In the Garden” (out now) and “(I Wanna Be Your) Satellite” are experimental to a trippy, Southern Gothic extreme, with imagery ranging from marionettes to snake-handling services. “Getting lost in time, engaging in the process, works for physical art and music the exact same,” Mathus says.


“I’d be happy to just do my jukin’ around in the South, jus’ making my change and doin’ my thang,” he says of the plans for extensive touring behind White Buffalo. “This is more of a challenge. Which is great, it’s a chance to see if we can expand what it is that we do.”


Jimbo Mathus 3




Jimbo Mathus & The Tri-State Coalition : White Buffalo

Jimbo_Mathus_White Buffalo

One of the great things to transpire over the last few years is the resurgence in appreciation for Americana music. With no need for big fancy stage shows, no desire to hide their voices behind auto tune, and no desire to write songs that pander to the common denominator just to sell records and make money, these artists simply write and play because it’s what the they love. Jimbo Mathus is one of these folks, and nowhere does it show more than on his latest album, White Buffalo.

The opening track, “In The Garden,” is the sound of a sunlit field, waist-high grass, and warm breezes blowing through. Other songs, such as the title track and “Run Devil Run,” show that when Jimbo and his band want to show off their Southern temperaments, it isn’t a problem. A kinship to Luther Dickinson and the North Mississippi All-Stars emerges on tracks like “Hatchie Bottom” and “Fake Hex”, with their swampy, juke-joint rhythms.

Recorded with his band, The Tri-State Coalition, this record is the culmination of a career and life of highs and lows; one that has seen many musical successes, but has also seen Mathus’ marriage end and his previous band, The Squirrel Nut Zippers collapse. Fortunately, he returned to his roots in Mississippi and found not only himself but his “voice.”

White Buffalo is out January 22 on Fat Possum Records

Jimbo Mathus: Blue Light

In some forms of meditation, there is a state of enlightenment and bliss in which the vision of a floating blue light centers in the mind’s eye.  This blue light is thought by some to represent the soul itself, or perhaps the manifestation of consciousness. On Jimbo Mathus’ latest release, an EP called Blue Light, the title track might refer to a run-in with the law and the attendant blue lights in the rearview mirror. But it might just as well refer to an encounter with the transcendental.

Mathus has made a career out of delving into and living within the mythology of the Deep South. Jim Dickinson called him the “singing voice of Huck Finn” and he has proudly carried the moniker of Captain Catfish and the Confederate Buddha as well. With Blue Light, Mathus and just a few compatriots inhabit all the nooks and crannies of that mythical world in just six tracks, squeezing the marrow from the bones of blues, soul and country to brew a stew that carries with it transportational qualities.

Take a strong pull of that brew, and Mathus serves as your redneck shaman spirit guide, dropping down in various places along the space/time continuum to visit roadhouses, juke joints and back roads. The title track is a rollicking incantation lifted by sweet pedal steel sounds, honky tonk piano and a soaring guitar refrain. “Shackles and Chains” summons a Staxian groove with its pumping organ riff. “Fucked Up World” is a chugging shuffle of rollin’ and tumblin. Elsewhere, we visit spooky atmospheric soul (“Ain’t Feeling It”) and plaintive honky tonk pleading (“Burn The Honky Tonk”). “Haunted John” is roadhouse romp with a New Orleans setting. With just six tracks, there’s not a wasted note anywhere or a hint of filler.

Recorded in Water Valley, Miss. and issued on 10” blue vinyl as well as digital formats, Blue Light is somehow both raw and refined, and a fun peek into the mind of this mystical musical character known as Jimbo Mathus.


Blue Light is out now on Big Legal Mess/Fat Possum.

From the Back Porch with Luther Dickinson

Words: Tim Newby

On a gorgeous Sunday evening in downtown Annapolis, I made my way to the back of the Rams Head on Stage to meet up with guitarist Luther Dickinson before his show that evening with his new project the South Memphis String Band.

After some small talk about the weather Dickinson led me through the backstage area, past the stage where Baltimore singer-songwriter Caleb Stine was warming up the crowd, past the kitchen area (stopping briefly to talk with band mate Jimbo Mathus), and eventually settling into a small backstage room where we could chat.

In conversation the Mississippi bred Dickinson’s Southern roots show through.  He is unfailing polite and speaks with a slow, thoughtful delivery that is peppered with a lot of “yeahs” and “mans.” Each answer comes across with his slight Southern drawl, which serves as a window to his Mississippi Hill Country home.

Continue reading From the Back Porch with Luther Dickinson

2nd Annual North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic extended to two days

Last July’s inaugural North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic was a resounding success, drawing over 1,000 people to a rural site in Potts Camp in Marshall County. The festival demonstrated the vitality of the contemporary blues scene in North Mississippi, and in light of the tremendous public response this year’s event has been extended to two days, June 29 and 30. Potts Camp is located off of Route 78, about halfway between Memphis and Tupelo.

The festival celebrates the legacies of departed North Mississippi blues legends including R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, and Othar Turner, and the festival will once again feature many of their children and grandchildren. These include Duwayne Burnside, and his band the Mississippi Mafia; the Burnside Exploration, featuring Cedric and Garry Burnside; David Kimbrough; the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band, led by Othar Turner’s 17-year-old granddaughter Sharde Thomas.

Other “second generation” acts returning to the event include Kenny Brown, R.L. Burnside’s longtime guitarist and “adopted son;” and the Reverend John Wilkins, son of pre-WWII recording artist Robert Wilkins, whose song “Prodigal Son” was covered by the Rolling Stones. Also returning to the festival are soul-blues legend Bobby Rush, Jimbo Mathus and Knockdown South, Cary Hudson, Jocco Rushing, and John Barnett.

Additions this year include the North Mississippi Allstars, whose leader Luther Dickinson grew up listening to R.L. Burnside and attending Othar Turner’s fife and drum picnics; songstress Shannon McNally, a resident of Holly Springs; and the Oxford-based Taylor Grocery Band, which features Junior Kimbrough’s son Kinney Kimbrough on drums and vocals.

Potts Camp resident Kenny Brown, who has been playing Hill Country blues since he was a young boy with artists including Mississippi Joe Callicott and Johnny Woods, conceived the festival.

“The original idea for this thing was to get all the Hill Country acts we could together at one time here in North Mississippi,” says Brown. “I know from first hand experience how popular the music is all over the world, but we previously didn’t have an opportunity to celebrate our shared heritage here on our home turf.

 “Last year we had a better turn out than we expected and it was wonderful for the performers to be able to hang out together and see the audience having such a great time. Sara Davis and the other organizers did a great job of getting everything together.

“This year we’re adding another day and some more acts, and we’re looking forward to an even greater turnout. Last year we had people from seventeen states and three foreign countries and I’m sure it will be even better this year. We’ll have plenty of food and a camping area.”

The festival is run by the non –profit organization North MS Hill Country Picnic, Inc., and enjoys great support and sponsorship from North Mississippi communities. Camping will be allowed both nights, coolers are permitted, and vendors will sell local delicacies including barbeque and fried catfish.

A portion of each ticket will be donated to MusiCares©, a charity run by the Recording Academy that provides free health care for musicians in need. Sponsors to-date include R&B Charitable Foundation, Paragon Casino, Freeland & Freeland, One Day Signs, Oxford Tourism, and Budweiser.

For more information visit the website www.nmshillcountrypicnic.com