When the story is someday written of how a loose-knit band of musicians and their fans took over the Auto-Tuned, dumbed-down mainstream and brought American music back to it's true glory, there will be several chapters devoted to Jimbo Mathus. In other words, Jimbo Mathus has been one of the most important recording artists of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. From the hot jazz of the Squirrel Nut Zippers to the blues-heavy early solo albums like Songs for Rosetta and National Antiseptic, to the country of Jimmy the Kid and the authentic old-time string band sounds of the South Memphis String Band, the one word that has always defined Jimbo Mathus's music is real. Last year, he perfected the formula, mixing the best of all of the worlds he has explored thus far into a modern Southern rock masterpiece called Confederate Buddha and with Blue Light, his upcoming EP on Big Legal Mess Records, he continues the winning streak that has been going on at least since the first Zippers' album back in 1995.
Throughout the six tracks here, Mathus and producer Bruce Watson touch on an uncanny number of musical styles. From Muscle Shoals soul, to roadhouse honkytonk, to straightforward garage rock, Jimbo shows that he can really do it all.
The EP opens with the pedal steel-heavy Southern rocker "Blue Light," a tale of weed and general lawlessness with a dark lyrical undertone that is hidden by the pure fun of it's melody.
On "Ain't Feelin' It" and "Shackles and Chains," Mathus delivers two great soul tunes with a rock edge in the guitar department, while "Haunted John" sounds like a post-modern version of Sam the Sham as produced by Jack White.
My two favorite songs here are "Fucked Up World" and "Burn the Honky Tonk," the latter of which was debuted last year on Outlaw Radio Chicago. It's a perfect country ballad of the type that you will never hear on radio these days, from a man who has definitely listened to his share of George Jones. "Fucked Up World" is, in some ways, the complete opposite, but both are the stories of a man dissatisfied with his own surroundings and speaking out against them. While "Burn the Honky Tonk" is straightforward golden era Nashville, "Fucked Up World" is pure Creedence.
Actually, Creedence isn't too much of a stretch to describe the sound of the entire EP. Like their albums, this is American rock and roll at it's finest, with strong doses of our blues and country roots thrown in. In fact, I would go as far as to say that Jimbo Mathus could be the John Fogerty of his generation. It's true that Mathus has never had the level of commercial success that CCR had (although the Squirrel Nut Zippers were far from being unknown), but Fogerty also didn't stick around as long as Jimbo has, choosing instead to take 10-year breaks from music each time he seemed to be making a comeback.
I don't see Jimbo Mathus taking a break any time soon. He loves it too damn much and that's a great thing for us. In 20 years, when America finally recognizes him for the genius that he is and hails him as one of the forefathers of modern music, I'll be standing somewhere on the back row saying "I told you so."
You can too. Pick up Blue Light. Get the new South Memphis String Band album and Confederate Buddha. Rediscover the Squirrel Nut Zippers or discover them for the first time. Be the first to pre-order White Buffalo later this year. Enjoy some great American music from one of the best artists making it today.