Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Written by Fantasma el Rey
Creep with me, cats, as we slip back in time, to a day and place where music is simple and heartfelt. When it didn’t matter who was playing the music was what it was labeled. Black, white, country, blues or jug band; it was played on the porch, in the fields or in tumble-down distiller shacks. The words of Dave Alvin, roots-rock hero, come to mind “American Music”, plain and simply put. These are the sounds that would fire up a younger generation and launch a revolution in music, giving rise to the southern rockers of the '60s and '70s.
Jimbo Mathus, who hit commercial success with the band Squirrel Nut Zippers, along with a few friends from the Mississippi area, have perfectly captured the true sound of the early South on this new disc old scool hot wings. They cover a wide range of music that stems from Mississippi and surrounding states that grew from the sometimes hard southern life, while providing a very entertaining history of sorts.
Jimbo’s choice of musicians is excellent; he’s got everything from guitar and banjo pickers to washboard scrubbers and tuba pros. Two of his handpicked musicians, Luther and Cody Dickinson, I’ve had the pleasure to see live with their own band North Mississippi Allstars. These two young gents throw down good blues with the best of them, combining a modern sound with a very traditional one, which works well for them. Here, they are stripped down along with the rest of the musicians and still shine, the mark of a true professional.
Jimbo’s idea here is not far from the vision he shared with his pals in the Zippers, old time music kept alive by people who love to play it, the way it should be played, from the heart. Mathus and band come across as authentic and not like some revivalist or parody act, with silly songs or overproduction.
The songs are mostly traditional, genuine to the South, and sound very much that way. They are pieces of the past that come to life the more you hear them. Songs such as the Civil War classic “Dixie” and “Bullfrog Blues” rank among my all-time personal favorites. The first time I heard “Bullfrog Blues” was on a Canned Heat record and I fell in love with it then. On this recording, Mathus strips it back to its original boogie-blues sound. “Dixie”, for some reason has always haunted this “Redneck/Mexican Boy” and stood out in my mind, the song itself conjures up images of the old South and a way of life that seemed a million miles away from my suburban home. When I finally had a chance to see the South with my own eyes, the song only haunted me more, because of the strange feeling of home and comfort I felt there; it’s hard to explain and this isn’t the place to try to do so.
Having said that, it will come as no surprise that my favorite track on this disc is the Mathus-penned “Bright Sunny South”, where Jimbo’s lyrics and vocals remind me of my all-time favorite guitar slinger and songwriter Mr. Carl Perkins from Tiptonville, Tennessee. Although Perkins is known for his rocker “Blue Suede Shoes”, here I’m speaking of his slower songs of love and home, heartfelt and to the point.
And that’s what I hear on this disc, songs that bring to mind an image of the past yet of a time and place that still exist with a music that will never die as long as fine musicians such as Jimbo Mathus and the Dickinson brothers are around to play it and spread the word. Good job, gentlemen and the rest of Knockdown South. Through your vision and work it looks like the music of the South will rise again!