they call him jimbo

jimbo mathus

jimbo mathus

One of my favorite Jimbo Mathus moments leads off a sublime roots-savvy 2006 album with his Knockdown South band. The recording, Old Scool Hot Wings, buries its head deep in the blues and folk roots of Mississippi. The tune in question, we are informed by Mathus’ spoken intro, dates back to around 1911. But it’s not blues or folk in any conventional sense. It’s a merry bit of testifying called Voice of a Pork Chop that is set to dancing guitar, mandolin, bass and kazoo. The resulting music is half jump blues glee and half wily intuition.

Mathus has made a career out of respectfully molding tradition to meet his own musical needs. You heard such playful invention in the music of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, the wildly far reaching band that dug into corners of swing, jazz, ragtime, vaudeville and more during the ‘90s. You also heard it in the often brilliant roots directed music Mathus has made his stock and trade since then, from his extraordinary soul/blues debut, Songs for Rosetta, to last year’s joyous roots music summit with Alvin Youngblood Hart and the North Mississippi Allstars’ Luther Dickinson in the South Memphis String Band.

Along the way, Mathus has generously shared that music with Lexington audiences in shows at the defunct Lynagh’s Music Club that came to define a pre-Knockdown South band called the Knockdown Society. There were also wonderful concert outings at the also-demised High on Rose.

The latter were usually weeknight affairs that stretched well into the wee hours. Understandably, audiences began to thin as 9-to-5ers slowly filed out to catch at least a little shut eye before the coming work day dawned. Mathus didn’t seem to mind the polite exodus. At one High on Rose show that ran especially late, he gave a nod, a wave and a smile to nearly every patron that had to leave before the show shut down.

This brings us to Mathus’ Lexington return this week after a prolonged absence, save for a WoodSongs date last year with the South Memphis String Band. His Saturday night outing at the Green Lantern presents the debut of Mathus’ newest Mississippi-inspired roots music group, the Tri-State Coalition, and an opportunity to introduce tunes from a new, critically lauded recording titled Confederate Buddha.

The Coalition – co-guitarist Matt Pierce, keyboardist Eric “Carlos” Carlton, bassist Justin Showah and drummer Austin Marshall – often draw on inspirations for Confederate Buddha from beyond the Mississippi border. Town with No Shame, for instance, reflects the kind of rustic country tradition that would do George Jones proud, Aces and Eights comes across as a tipsy Tex-Mex waltz and Kine Joe revolves around a country-funk muse and a percolating Bo Diddley-esque groove.

More than perhaps any other voice, Confederate Buddha recalls the roots-drenched hybrid music of The Band, right down to the Levon Helm-flavored country-soul slant of Mathus’ singing on Leash My Pony, Shady Dealing and Days of High Cotton.

It’s not all a party, though. Images of last year’s Nashville floods balance a ride on the mythic “midnight train” to Memphis during Cling to the Roots while echoes of churchy, country loss are instilled in Glad It’s Dark (“I’m glad it’s dark; I don’t want to see you”).

The magic, of course, will come when Mathus and company put these Mississippi-and-more accents into performance motion for a blast of steamy Southern soul at the ultra-intimate Green Lantern on Saturday.

By the way, the forecast, as of this writing, calls for a daytime high of 94 on Saturday. That should set the stage nicely for the summery swelter of Mathus’ music.

Jimbo Mathus and the Tri-State Coalition performs at 9 p.m. July 23 at the Green Lantern, 497 W. 3rd. $10. Call (859) 252-9539.

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