This Time Jimmy the Kid Brought His Posse! Best Jimbo Album Yet
James. Jas. Hambone. Jimmy the Kid. Kap'n Katfish. Jimbo.
Over the years Jimbo Mathus' nickname has changed as frequently as the musical genres of his albums and the number of musicians that have backed him up.
Just check out this discography:
- "Play Songs for Rosetta" (Jas. Mathus and His Knockdown Society), Oct. 21, 1997 - The folk roots benefit album for Rosetta Patton that features a vast ensemble of musicians.
- "National Antiseptic" (James Mathus & His Knockdown Society), Oct. 16, 2001 - The swamp boogie album.
- "Stop and Let the Devil Ride" (James Mathus Knockdown Society), June 17, 2003 - The blues album.
- "Knockdown South" (Jimbo Mathus Knockdown South), January 25, 2005 - The soul album with his Knockdown South band.
- "Old Scool Hot Wings" (Jas. Mathus), May 30, 2006 - Another folk roots album recorded with a vast ensemble of musicians.
- "Jimmy the Kid" (Jimbo Mathus), August 18, 2009 - The country rock album.
- "Confederate Buddha" (Jimbo Mathus), May 24, 2011 - The album that can't be pegged into one genre. First album with Jimbo's new full-time band, the Tri-State Coalition.
"Confederate Buddha" marks the first album recorded with the Tri-State Coalition, a collection of like-minded, dedicated musicians who have taken a solemn vow to play along with Jimbo for the foreseeable future.
How like-minded? Justin Showah, bassist and backup vocals, is owner at Hill Country Records, the label that released Jimbo's previous effort "Jimmy the Kid." The label is a beacon for the region's culture and music, putting on the annual Hill Country Festival and promoting other artists like Eric Deaton (who was a part of Knockdown South with Jimbo in the mid-00's). Also part of the Hill Country family is the Coalition's keyboardist, Eric Carlton, who was featured on Kent Kimbrough's "Super Funky" album alongside Jimbo and Showah. Co-guitarist and vocalist Matt Pierce, a member of the Arkansas Bros., also shares the same passion for the region's music. The most recent addition to the Tri-State Coalition is Alex Holeman, who rounds out the band on drums. Like his band mate Pierce, Holeman hails from Jonesboro, Arkansas.
In a recent interview Jimbo explained that on tour, in the days before the Tri-State Coalition, he would mosey into a town and locate a drummer for that evening's performance. His recording style was similar, often recruiting local friends/musicians to play on a session or two that he would later piece into an album. Jimbo realized this wasn't sustainable. He needed to commit to a consistent, reliable act.
Jimbo is known for crossing genres between albums, but not within. Every previous album release, as you can see from the discography, has a distinct feel to it. There's the folk roots albums ("Rosetta" and "Hot Wings"), the blues album ("Stop and Let the Devil Ride"), the country rock album ("Jimmy the Kid") and so on. Jimbo's days of playing it safe within a genre, playing off the cuff with whoever may be around, have officially ended with this album. With the Tri-State Coalition by his side, Jimbo extends his reach in "Confederate Buddha" like he has never done before. Just look at the album title. It may shock and confuse at first, but after a brief explanation it makes perfect sense. Jimbo explained that the title was coined by Justin Showah, that it's an amalgam of two opposites; a rebellious anarchist combined with perpetual inner peace. Jimbo, in a sense, is the living "Confederate Buddha." He's contented with his lifestyle, a self-professed person of peace, but is also a rousing Southern cowboy whose music tells stories ranging from floods and disaster to love stories and talking pork chops--and they all make you boogie. Although "at peace," the mere formation of the Tri-State Coalition shows that he wants to achieve more.
Now, on to that achievement.
"Confederate Buddha" is comprised of twelve genre-crossing tracks:
1. "Jimmy the Kid" - Originally recorded on the album that shares its name, this song is a fitting introduction to Jimbo Mathus and the Tri-State Coalition. It not only sets the tone for the album, but it also marks the official change in mindset and style. Originally a slower-paced country ballad, the song now opens dramatically with its main riff and a man on a mission. Jimmy the Kid's not rolling into town alone again--this time he's with his posse, and he's got stories to tell!
2. "Cling to the Roots" -Jimbo has explained that he writes some catchier tunes and puts them to sadder themes, and this song is a prime example. By far my favorite track from the album, the song uses that "Confederate Buddha" complexity to deliver a Southern rock anthem for everyone affected by the flooding down south. Jimbo is a man who wears his heart, and roots, on his sleeve. This song gives me goose bumps every time it plays.
3. "Wheel Upon Wheel" - A nice transition from "Cling to the Roots" that features strong harmonies. The song develops nicely and eventually builds to one of the best song endings on the album. Get your lighters ready!
4. "Town Without Shame" - Like many have mentioned, I felt like I was listening to a lost track from Hank Sr.'s greatest hits album. This is a great ode to the singer-songwriter era of country music.
5. "Leash My Pony" - A put a smile on your face, soul-inspired track with a ragtime undertone. A great example of how Jimbo and the boys have blended genres on this album.
6. "Walks Beside" - Jimbo hasn't only landed a full-time band recently, he also landed a full-time soul mate! Written for his wife, Jennifer, Jimbo croons on the album's love song. Great build, harmonies and emotion in this one.
7. "Glad It's Dark" - And as the "Confederate" to the last track's "Buddha" is "Glad It's Dark." A song of isolation, despair and heartbreak, this song is another track whose lyrics contradict its sound. The keys provide a vintage "AM Gold" feeling, but performed live this song kicks your butt!
8. "Aces & Eights" - A runner-up for favorite track, this song starts off with horns and mariachi flair. While on tour in South Dakota Jimbo realized he was at the hotel where Wild Bill Hickcock was killed by the coward Jack McCall. After a little research Jimbo crafted this song, the true story of what happened that fateful day. Another testament to Jimbo's genre-bending, storytelling ability.
9. "Too Much Water" - A slower-paced blues/rock/country/soul number that features a great piano/guitar duet.
10. "Kine Joe" - This is the boogie track on the album. Like "Jimmy the Kid," Jimbo has crafted another character and shares his story. Features a crazy breakdown.
11. "Shady Dealing" - A straight-ahead rock number about some things you probably shouldn't do! In the same vein of "Little Hand, Big Gun" from the last album, this is the track that gets people on their feet.
12. "Days of High Cotton" - This Southern rock ballad closes the album out fittingly. Jimbo shows great vocal range in this track reminiscent of "Ask My Captain" from the "Knockdown South" album.
From start to finish, this is my favorite Jimbo Mathus album. It crosses genres and it showcases Jimbo's range as a vocalist and storyteller. The Tri-State Coalition has revitalized Jimbo, allowing him to do more than he's ever done before. I've had this album for months, and like a fine wine it only gets better with age. There are songs that I like more than others one week, then those others become more favorites the next. The variety will surprise you, even when you think you have it all figured out.
Also, do yourself a favor and check out Jimbo Mathus and the Tri-State Coalition in concert. Unlike a lot of other bands, their songs sound even better live!