Trying to pinpoint the musical proclivities of Jimbo Mathus is a bit like trying to predict the path of lightning. You never know where his seemingly limitless creative energy might take him next. But you can bet those bolts of inspiration will produce something you need to hear. His latest project, the nine-song EP Band of Storms, is a brilliant collection of what he characterizes as "just some odds and ends...you know, folk music."
Well, that depends on your definition of folk music. If it includes Stonesy R&B grooves, straight-outta-Nuggets rawk, deep blues, barrelhouse honky-tonk, a string-laden murder ballad and Louisiana-accented bluegrass, then yeah, we could call it folk. As filtered through the fertile mind of a diehard Southerner, born and raised in Oxford, MS, not much more than a stone's throw from Tupelo, Holly Springs and Clarksdale. That is, right in the birthplace of American roots music.
"It's just a continuation of the work I've been doing for, shoot, the past 20 years," Mathus says. "There's no big overall, arching thing. It's just random notes out of my brain." But then he reveals that there is a theme of sorts, and that most of the subject matter is reflected right in Erika Jane Amerika's cover art. It features a maniacal-looking Mathus standing near a cypress swamp, holding his lightning-struck Epiphone guitar in one hand and a fiery bible in the other. A lightning-zapped Econoline van hovers above him; gathered at his feet are an alligator, his Catahoula dog and a snake-handling Yemayá (the "great mother" of Santeria religion).
Mathus doesn't even list individual credits on his albums because, he says, they're so collaborative. But he plays just about all the instruments, augmented by helpful friends. In this case, they include Watson as executive producer; Mathus produced. Bronson Tew engineered, mixed and mastered – and played many instruments, too. Also contributing are Ryan Rogers, Eric Carlton, Will McCarley, Jamison Hollister, Jim Spake, Mark Franklin and Stu Cole, who plays bass in Mathus' most renowned musical endeavor, the Squirrel Nut Zippers.
The result is an ode to what Mathus calls the "primal Southern groove." There's only one co-write – the twangy "Play with Fire," also credited to his late friend Robert Earl Reed. Barage-rocker "Massive Confusion," serves as a straight-up homage to the Replacements, Bobby Fuller Four and the Ramones. Additional cuts include the horn-pumped rock of the opener, "Gringo Man," honky-tonk blooz of "Can't Get Much Higher," Southern gothic "Stop Your Crying," Emmylou Harris inspired "Wayward Wind," elemental blues of "Slow Down Sun," and "Keep It Together" which sounds as if George Harrison might have written it, but Mathus says it came to him after watching the documentary about fellow Southerners Big Star.