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Old Scool Hot Wings

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Album Review

Call him Jim, James, Jimbo, Jas., call him what you will; all you really need to know is that he's from Mississippi, and that he plays the blues. That's certainly all that matters on James Mathus' latest record with his band Knockdown South, Old Scool Hot Wings. He sticks to the Delta basics here, a dirty acoustic guitar and his voice, plus a bass, but he throws in a dobro, washboard, fiddle, kazoo, even a tuba when he sees fit. It's music like what's played on sagging front porches, thick with sweat and deep summer air that hovers stagnant and hot as calloused thumbs hit steel strings and wood. Mathus wraps himself around old blues classics, moaning out the words to "Peaches," letting the bass tap out the beat in "Bullfrog Blues," accenting the mandolin in "Wouldn't Treat a Dog" with harmonized vocals. It's real, and it's raw, like it was recorded in an old bar, the smell of whiskey and stale beer stuck in the spaces between the notes. But Mathus is more than just R.L. Burnside or Charley Patton. He's also Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams, and he reminds us of that, and how connected country and blues are in rural Mississippi. His take on "Old Rugged Cross," for which he smoothes out his voice, is lovely, with all the pain and suffering that it's supposed to have, and like any proud Southerner, he includes a version of "Dixie" using clean, rich harmonies and strings with simple percussion sustaining the movement, and when he sings, "I'll take my stand to live and die in Dixieland" you know he really means it. As if you weren't convinced about his authenticity and love for the music he's playing, Mathus also includes three original pieces that would fit into any Delta songbook, like "Torture Blues," which, with its sparse, repetitive guitar and vocals, sounds a lot like something Son House might have done. Which just goes to show that blues isn't so much about time and race, it's about passion and a feeling of connectedness to where you're from. Old Scool Hot Wings certainly shows that James Mathus has that.


Born: August, 1967 in Oxford, MS

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Jim "Jimbo" Mathus first gained fame as the co-founder of the retro-swing outfit the Squirrel Nut Zippers. But after the group's messy breakup, he went on to a prolific career as a guitarist, songwriter, and producer, defining his own brand of revved-up blues and roots music. Using a variety of stage names, including James Mathus, Jas Mathus, Jimbo "Hambone" Mathus, and Jimbo Mathus, he first began stepping out on his own as a sideman with one-time Zippers' violinist Andrew Bird. Mathus appeared...
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Old Scool Hot Wings, Jimbo Mathus
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