Jimbo Mathus – Incinerator | Album Review

Jimbo Mathus – Incinerator

Big Legal Mess Records

11 songs – 41 minutes

Jimbo Mathus’ perpetual musical quest opens a fresh new chapter with Incinerator.  The Mississippi-born Mathus seems driven to dig deep into every kind of American music, from his swing-jazz revivalists, Squirrel Nut Zippers, to his solo albums where he has essayed country blues (Play Songs For Rosetta and Old Scool Hot Wings), honky tonk country (Jimmy The Kid), roots rock (Stop And Let The Devil Ride) and even psychedelic Southern-gothic rock (Blue Healer and Band of Storms). On albums like Confederate Buddha he gleefully mixes genres from song to song.

On Incinerator, he lays down his usual guitar and plays piano exclusively, backed primarily by Bronson Tew on drums  and Drive-By Truckers bassist, Matt Patton (the pair also produced the album, recording it at Dial Back Sound, Water Valley, MS).

The result is an introspective collection of eleven primarily acoustic songs that explore the roots of roots and country music.

The opening track, “You Are Like A Song” is indicative of the album as a whole. With gentle acoustic backing, a country-tinged vocal performance from Mathus and a glorious soaring chorus with harmonised eight-voice gospel backing vocals, it could have been written at any point over the last 60 years. Nearly all the songs follow a similarly slow tempo, whether the threatening electric arpeggios of the title track (imagine if early REM had grown up in Mississippi rather than Georgia), the Etta James-esque torch song of “Really Hurt Someone” or the poignant piano-led “Been Unravelling”.

The lovely drinking song, “South of Laredo”, benefits from another catchy chorus and some tasty lap steel guitar, while “Sunken Road” has a chord progression reminiscent of some of Jimi Hendrix’s quieter moments, and allows Mathus to duet with Lilly Hiatt. Other guests on the album include violinist Andrew Bird, alt-country vocalist/guitarist, Kevin Russell, Ernie Welch (banjo), Steve Butler (fiddle), Bobby Isbell (dobro), Alex Holeman and Schaefer Llana.

The discordant blues-rock of “Alligator Fish”, with its fuzzed guitars, special effects and minimalist chord progression, is the only track on which the pace picks up and even then only to mid-pace.

Mathus has always produced entertaining lyrics and the songs on Incinerator are no exception, ranging from the wryly comic “Jack Told The Devil” (with its enticing opening couplet “Now I don’t know, but I been told, Jack tricked the Devil just to save his soul. Now I ever get sober again, I’m going to track down this Jack and take him for my friend”) to the brooding melancholy of “Never Know Till It’s Gone”.

The album ends with a cover of the Carter Family’s “Give Me The Roses”, a fitting bookend for an album that celebrates early country music. If you’re a blues fan and you don’t already know Jimbo Mathus, you might want to look some of his blusier work initially. If you already know and like him, you will want to pick this album up – it’s a fine addition to his oeuvre. And if you’re a fan of genre-busting artists like Ian Siegal or Doug Sahm, you will definitely want to hear this. It’s a lovely release.

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