REVIEW: Jimbo Mathus Explores the Roots of Country on ‘Incinerator’

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Jimbo Mathus has covered a lot of ground since his days in Squirrel Nut Zippers mostly because he isn’t content to make the same sort of album repeatedly. Incinerator (Big Legal Mess/FatPossum) has a definite country feel, but not in the vein of country that you hear on the radio.

Part of Mathus’s exploration of country sounds can be heard in the opening track. With the harmony vocals and the instrumentation, “You Are like a Song” has the feel of a Carter Family song. The roots of this song are in the gospel sounds that you can hear so frequently in bluegrass. It’s easy to imagine the whole band gathered around the piano like a family sing-along as they sang this one.

Along the same lines is “Give Me the Roses,” which was recorded by The Carter Family and The Stanley Brothers, among others. This version remains true to the bluegrass roots. This sounds like the kind of song a family band would sing around a campfire. However, to put it into the context of a studio, this is the kind of song that the band would record around just one microphone.

Another aspect of country music can be heard in “South of Laredo” and “Jack Told the Devil.” “South of Laredo” is a song about the search for liquor. This song features some honky-tonk piano paired with some pedal steel that gives the song a Bakersfield feel. “Jack Told the Devil” features a piano part that is perfect for a saloon scene in a western movie.

A lot of the songs l have a pretty slow tempo, but they allow you to hear the intricate orchestration of the song. “Really Hurt Someone” is one of those songs. The tempo is almost dirge-like, but it allows you to hear how the piano melds with the swells of the strings. Plus it allows you to hear the ache in Mathus’s voice as he sings.

Since so much of the album is so subdued, “Alligator Fish” particularly stands out. This song features a distorted bluesy sound on the guitar and a beat worthy of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. When you listen to the lyrics, you wonder if Mathus is channeling Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.

This album is another great example of how Mathus is not bound by any particular style. It is really a country album, but probably no one in Nashville would recognize it as such. You can read our interview with him, here: Interview: Jimbo Mathus on How Life is an “Incinerator” If you’re already a fan of Mathus, this album will only deepen your appreciation. If you’re unfamiliar with him, this is a good album to see what he can do within the broad range of country music. Incinerator will be available everywhere on April 5. Order your copy here:

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