From the blistering opener, the original “Shoot Out the Lights,” it’s clear that Jimbo Mathus will be laying on hands that have been sancitifed by the spirits of all manner of Southern music. With the prodding of Bronson Tew’s drums and and Eric “Roscoe” Ambel’s guitar, Mathus confesses that he’s the sort of person that trouble seems to find. It’s the start of a loosely structured concept album that sees Mathus’ protagonist counting up his sins, seeking the healing powers of the mystical title character, and questioning whether redemption can really even be had.
The story begins with the narrator cocooned in his troubles, but with “Ready to Run,” he emerges into a Springsteen-styled catharsis of urgency, ambition and passion. He aims to vanquish his doubts of redemption, but the struggle isn’t resolved in a simple, linear narrative. His thoughts turn inward with the mystical ponderings of “Coyote” and “Bootheel Witch,” and resurface to find wanton ways still at odds with a commitment to change. “Waiting for the Other Shoe to Fall” documents Saturday night’s revelry, and the closing “Love and Affection” provides Sunday morning’s appeal for forgiveness. In between, “Save It For the Highway” depicts the ongoing struggle between dark and light, and suggests the cycle may have no end.
There are numerous musical threads woven into this album, often within a single piece. The lyrics, guitars and Tex-Mex sounds of “Mama Please” echo David Allen Coe, Merle Haggard and Doug Sahm. The invocation of “Blue Healer” suggests the hoodoo of Dr. John and the dark, melodrama of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. There’s neo-psych guitar, an acoustic love song, spiritual New Orleans R&B, and even a great, noisy jam playing out “Bootheel Witch.”. This is music made by someone steeped in Southern styles; someone whose education was as much atmosphere as lesson plan. The fluency with which Mathus navigates his influences will come as no surprise to his fans, but even they may be floored by how fluidly it all comes together. [©2015 Hyperbolium]