As varied as his music has been – from the vaudeville swing of the Squirrel Nut Zippers to the roots-blues of the all-star South Memphis String Band to the raw, rambunctious rock ‘n’ roll of his current Tri-State Coalition – there has always been a singular stylistic core to the music of Jimbo Mathus.
“All of my songs are folk songs at heart,” said Mathus, who returns to Lexington for a Sunday performance at the Green Lantern with local blues/soul pros The North Side Shieks opening.
But the folk inspirations that Mathus and the Tri-State Coalition summon on their new Dark Night of the Soul album often possess a restless, rocking quality. He hammered the songs out during extended recording sessions at Dial Back Sound Studio, located near Mathus’ Taylor, Mississippi home. The studio is operated Bruce Watson, label manager of Fat Possum Records, who also served as producer for Dark Night of the Soul
“I went through a process of writing about 40 songs with Bruce.’ Mathus said. “I wrote the songs, but he came and listened to the demos I would create. Bruce really edited this thing down for me.
“I think people are going to be pretty surprised when they hear this. Some of the subject matter is a little darker, a little heavier. There is a song about a lynching on there called Fire in the Cane Brake. The title track is a song about what would happen if the earth was ending. Of course, there is some good old rock ‘n’ roll and some freewheeling stuff, too.”
The more protracted recording approach for Dark Night of the Soul differed in design from the whirlwind sessions with producer Eric “Roscoe” Ambel for Mathus’ previous album, White Buffalo. But Mathus said that working with Ambel and Watson in such different settings has added greatly to the Tri-State Coalition’s maturity as a band.
“Roscoe wanted us to be a lean, mean rock ‘n’ roll machine with very few overdubs. The sound was very streamlined but we learned so much about being a band from him. Sometimes when I think I’ve learned it all, I meet somebody like Roscoe. We just performed live in the studio and it was a great experience. We were done within about three days time, having just piled up in a room with no headphones, no monitors or anything. It was just live.
“With Bruce, recording was spread out over about a year. I had the luxury of coming in every two weeks with a handful of songs and sketching out ideas and trying things. Some of them turned into some of the key pieces on the record that I would have never envisioned showing the band just because I thought they were too eccentric. It was just a different experience. Both are great producers, though.”
Jimbo Mathus and the Tri-State Coalition will perform at 9 p.m. April 13 at the Green Lantern, 497 W. Third. Call (859) 242-9539.