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jimbo mathus: knockdown south knockdown south records #ksr001 review by michael cala
October 17, 2008

on the splash page of jimbo mathus’s web site is identifying text that reads, “james “jimbo” mathus - aka jimbo, james, jim, jax, hambone, debo, dick, mathis & mathus…” just as he’s developed more than half a dozen “go-bys,” the clarksdale, mississippi native is filling several musical roles these days. he’s played second guitar with buddy guy on two superb albums: sweet tea and the grammy award winning blues singer. he then traveled with guy on national tour. reviewers uniformly praised mathus’s smokestack slide guitar work and his ability to keep up with guy in the intricate onstage musical “cutting” for which the latter is famous. mathus came to national attention as founder of the swinging jazz and jive band, the squirrel nut zippers, in the chapel hill (nc) area in 1993. one of mathus’s first non-zipper projects was producing and performing on a benefit album titled songs for rosetta (mammoth records, 1997). the album is dedicated to charley patton’s daughter, rosetta, with whom mathus has been “like family” since childhood. charlie never filed copyrights, so rosetta has never received royalties for anything he wrote or performed. in 2004, mathus changed his address back to clarksdale and began his online record label knockdown south; this cd is the label’s first release. mathus also started the delta recording service in downtown clarksdale at the same time. here, as producer, arranger, engineer and “on-call sideman,” he’s recorded a dozen or more artists including the jelly roll all stars (highlighted in issue #92 of blues revue); british alt-rocker elvis costello, the north mississippi all stars, and legendary memphis bluesman-producermusicologist jim dickinson. over four albums with the knockdown society, mathus has stuck close to the

jimbo mathus/knockdown south/m. cala

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north mississippi sound that he so loves. on this cd, however, he changes musical styles on nearly each of the 12 cuts on knockdown south. at 52 and a half minutes, the cd opens with the evocative “crazy bout you,” a hypnotic north mississippi style blues – heavy percussion and insistent chordal repetition (no surprise, considering cedric burnside is on board) -that leads into an appreciation of southern blues and rock for the next 11 tracks. on “hypmotized,” [sic] the first couple of bars suggest we’re getting into a stax records funk-out circa the sam and dave era. “let me be your rocker” and boogie music start moving toward the hard-edged southern blues rock of the allmans and lynnerd skynnerd. mathus often alters his vocals to match the tunes. on “skateland baby,” and “loose diamonds,” for example, arrangements and vocals sound eerily like the stones during their sticky fingers-era flirtation with country-rock; by the time “rolling like a log” comes round, we’re in canned heat/john lee hooker territory, even to the lyrical use of hooker’s “boogie” leitmotif. “loving arms” is clearly mathus’s tribute to nashville at mid-century, while the final track, “asked my captain,” brings us full-circle to traditional country blues. mathus is a superb songwriter, as this cd makes clear. he also believes music is a universal constant, no matter its style. “music for me starts with charley patton and jimmie rodgers and grows upward from there to the present. [music is] all one thing and you really have to consider every part of it.” michael cala