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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.

Customer Reviews

El Bicho’s Hive- review of Jimbo Mathus “Old Scool Hot Wings”

Creep with me, cats, as we slip back in time, to a day and place where music is simple and heartfelt. When it didn't matter who was playing the music or what it was labeled. Black, white, country, blues or jug band; it was played on the porch, in the fields or in tumble-down distiller shacks. The words of Dave Alvin, roots-rock hero, come to mind "American Music", plain and simply put. These are the sounds that would fire up a younger generation and launch a revolution in music, giving rise to the southern rockers of the '60s and '70s. Jimbo Mathus, who hit commercial success with the band Squirrel Nut Zippers, along with a few friends from the Mississippi area, have perfectly captured the true sound of the early South on this new disc old scool hot wings. They cover a wide range of music that stems from Mississippi and surrounding states that grew from the sometimes hard southern life, while providing a very entertaining history of sorts. Jimbo's choice of musicians is excellent; he's got everything from guitar and banjo pickers to washboard scrubbers and tuba pros. Two of his handpicked musicians, Luther and Cody Dickinson, I've had the pleasure to see live with their own band North Mississippi Allstars. These two young gents throw down good blues with the best of them, combining a modern sound with a very traditional one, which works well for them. Here, they are stripped down along with the rest of the musicians and still shine, the mark of a true professional. Jimbo's idea here is not far from the vision he shared with his pals in the Zippers, old time music kept alive by people who love to play it, the way it should be played, from the heart. Mathus and band come across as authentic and not like some revivalist or parody act, with silly songs or overproduction. The songs are mostly traditional, genuine to the South, and sound very much that way. They are pieces of the past that come to life the more you hear them. Songs such as the Civil War classic "Dixie" and "Bullfrog Blues" rank among my all-time personal favorites. The first time I heard "Bullfrog Blues" was on a Canned Heat record and I fell in love with it then. On this recording, Mathus strips it back to its original boogie-blues sound. "Dixie", for some reason has always haunted this "Redneck/Mexican Boy" and stood out in my mind, the song itself conjures up images of the old South and a way of life that seemed a million miles away from my suburban home. When I finally had a chance to see the South with my own eyes, the song only haunted me more, because of the strange feeling of home and comfort I felt there; it's hard to explain and this isn't the place to try to do so. Having said that, it will come as no surprise that my favorite track on this disc is the Mathus-penned "Bright Sunny South", where Jimbo's lyrics and vocals remind me of my all-time favorite guitar slinger and songwriter Mr. Carl Perkins from Tiptonville, Tennessee. Although Perkins is known for his rocker "Blue Suede Shoes", here I'm speaking of his slower songs of love and home, heartfelt and to the point. And that's what I hear on this disc, songs that bring to mind an image of the past yet of a time and place that still exist with a music that will never die as long as fine musicians such as Jimbo Mathus and the Dickinson brothers are around to play it and spread the word. Good job, gentlemen and the rest of Knockdown South. Through your vision and work it looks like the music of the South will rise again! Written by Fantasma el Rey

Classic stuff

Jimbo is quite simply a genius. I relate to these songs on many levels, having stomped the same ground in Mississippi and North Carolina as Jimbo. His rendition of Dixie brings a joyful tear to my eye, and there's just a treasure trove of stuff here, including Pork Chop, Ben Dewberry, Tappin That Thing, and Old Rugged Cross. I've seen him live with the Zippers twice, and his showmanship and true dedication to his music just blows me away.

Biography

Born: September, 1967 in Oxford, MS

Genre: Alternative

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

Along with his work in the Squirrel Nut Zippers, singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Jim Mathus pursued projects outside of the group (often under slightly different names, including James Mathus, Jas Mathus, Jimbo "Hambone" Mathus, and Jimbo Mathus), appearing on collaborator Andrew Bird's albums Thrills and Bowl of Fire. In 1997, Mathus, Zippers bassist Stu Cole, producer Mike Napolitano, and pianist Greg Bell formed the Knockdown Society and released Play Songs for Rosetta, a collection of...
Full Bio
Old Scool Hot Wings, Jimbo Mathus
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