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Jimbo Mathus: Knockdown South

Jimbo Mathus: Knockdown South

Label:Knockdown South

By John Duffy | Posted 3/30/2005

After dissolving the retro-swing Squirrel Nut Zippers, James Mathus spent the better part of the next decade getting reacquainted with the Deep South of his youth through music. He was bandleader for Buddy Guy, and helped out acts such as R.L. Burnside and the North Mississippi All-stars. Three of his albums explored string-band and hillbilly music, hard-driving electric power-trio blues, and early-1970s Southern rock. Knockdown South, the first release on his own label and recorded at his own bare-bones Clarksdale, Miss., storefront studio, attempts to gather all the strands he hasn’t yet tackled on record—back-porch country, funky stoner jams, and Memphis soul—under one roof.

The country tunes, like the Dylan-ish “Loose Diamonds” and “Skateland Baby” (which feels straight off of Sticky Fingers), are the true gems, sounding just ragged enough to feel conceived and recorded in one well-lubricated jam. And Mathus is perhaps at his most effective on the eerie solo acoustic blues of “Asked My Captain.” When it comes to the harder funk numbers, album-opener “Crazy ’Bout You,” creates hip-shaking momentum with its reverb-drenched guitars and a sharp backbeat that betrays a strong hip-hop influence.

Most of the songs that follow, however, are largely a mess of redundant riffs and off-the-top-of-the-head lyrics that honestly should have stayed there. A good groove is a terrible thing to waste, and herein lie half a dozen examples. Mathus has proven at almost every stage in his career that he is a capable player of many sounds in many settings, and with just about any band. Even the best of musical chameleons’ inspiration sometimes runs short.

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