Jimbo Mathus has traveled a strange and convoluted musical journey since his 1967 birth in Oxford, Mississippi. As a member of Johnny Vomit & The Dry Heaves, he was part of a punk rock band. He was a founding member of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, who combined Delta blues with New Orleans jazz. His solo albums have explored the blues, traditional country, folk, and even some string music.
He has now returned with his latest release, a six song EP titled Blue Light. He draws on his southern roots as the blues are the foundation for his new album with some rock and country steel guitars mixed in for good measure.
The opening title track sets the tone for what will follow. There is a pounding bass and some simple guitar lines but the lyrics and vocals are direct from his Delta heritage. His voice has a Ray Charles tone and phrasing and is a good instrument to interpret his stories.
“Haunted John” moves toward a traditional southern rock sound but is held back from completely crossing over by his bluesy vocal. “Fucked Up World” is a throwback to his punk days as the lyrics find him venting his anger. “Burn the Honky Tonk” is musically different from the other tracks as he slows down the tempo and moves in a country gospel direction.
As with many blues artists he is able to tell stories through his lyrics. His current songs are taken from a lifetime of southern living and travels. A press release quotes the late Memphis producer Jim Dickinson as saying Mathus has “the singing voice of Huck Finn.” That probably describes his latest musical approach.
His is backed by his band of many years, which includes fellow Mississippians Justin Showah (bass) and Eric Carlton (keyboards), plus Arkansas guitar player Matt Pierce. Drummer Ryan Rogers is the newest member having been added last year. They provide tight backing for his vocals and guitar playing.
He has been prolific since the mid-1990s. Blue Light is his ninth solo release and when you add in nine more albums by the Squirrel Nut Zippers, you have a lot of music and styles. His albums are always an adventure and Blue Light is a journey worth taking with him.