Label: Blue Legal Mess
Release Date: April 21, 2015
Review Date: April 19, 2015
From the gritty, chiming six-string stomp of opener “Shoot Out the Lights” to the angelic gospel choir and piano finale of “Love and Affection,” the new album Blue Healer is a flat-out, no holds barred, brawling, sprawling excursion through the deep musical soul of Jimbo Mathus.
Jimbo Mathus is a Boomerocity favorite. His unique blues and gospel blend with the echoes of rock and R&B, Mathus has become a vital link in the chain of great American music. He started building his reputation with the ongoing old-timey/swing revival with the Squirrel Nut Zippers. Then Mathus became an MVP indie producer and sideman who made his bones playing guitar on blues legend Buddy Guy’s seriously twisted electric groundbreaker Sweet Tea. He’s also a co-founder of the critically heralded South Memphis String Band, with fellow roots music rabble-rousers Luther Dickinson, of North Mississippi All Stars, and Alvin Youngblood Hart. And along the way he’s toured internationally and recorded under his own name and with his Tri-State Coalition band, leaving a dozen untamed, free-ranging albums in his wake.
Jimbo has now created his absolute manifesto with Blue Healer. The 12-song set was recorded at Dial Back Sound in Water Valley, Mississippi, an all-analog recording palace that’s perfect for Mathus’ blend of old-school tones and edgy, kinetic energy.
At its core, Blue Healer is a concept album with room for acid-fed, supernatural visions, vulnerable love songs, Saturday night brawls, bad-boy regrets and youthful celebrations — all embellished by Mathus’ estimable abilities as a natural raconteur and straight-from-the-heart singer.
Mathus explains the album this way: “It’s the story of a man in a southern landscape who is swept insanely apart by internal and external winds. He digs deeper and deeper into the very fabric of his reality, experiencing love and lust, despair, hope and sheer animal exhilaration on levels few ever do. He is tested in every way imaginable and achieves a sort of enlightenment — gains power and understanding of life’s mysteries.
“Yet questions remain. He wonders if the struggle was worth it, or even real. Is he madman or sage? Con man or honest counsel? Is this autobiographical or fictional? Only the Blue Healer knows the answer to the great cosmic heebie-jeebie.”
The Blue Healer — not to be confused with the Blue Heeler, or Cattle Dog — is a mythological figure that makes her appearance three songs into the album, on the title number. Mathus intones the story of this mysterious yet comforting female presence over a fever dream soundtrack where reverb drenched guitars writhe like angry serpents in a Delta fog and lysergic Farfisa stirs the mists. By then Mathus — or, at least, the album’s protagonist — needs healing. He’s gotten into plenty of trouble, raising a raunchy, riff-driven rock ’n’ roll ruckus with help from Del Lords’ guitarist Eric Ambel on the opener “Shoot Out the Lights,” and ticking off a list of vices and failings from drug use to pyromania in the confessional “Mama Please.” “Coyote” briefly changes the setting from the Deep South to a peyote-fueled Southwestern landscape, where tremolo’d guitars are the breadcrumbs along a cosmic cowboy’s trail that runs among the rough-hewn sonic landmarks of Neil Young, the Electric Prunes and spaghetti western film composer Ennio Morricone.
The quiet spirit of “Thank You,” a love song that Mathus sings to the spare accompaniment electric and acoustic guitars, spotlights the dusty sincerity reflected in his voice throughout the album. In fact, his graceful and commanding vocals on Blue Healer are the spine and soul of its songs, no matter where they roam — even when Mathus is serving up hot refried Southern boogie on “Bootheel Witch” or using weeping pedal steel to abet his country-style tale of prize winning lay-about “Old Earl.” It all culminates in “Love and Affection,” which is a breathing compendium of the major elements in Mathus’ musical DNA: rock ’n’ roll strut, blues guitar hijinks, backwoods funk and gospel testifying, all framed by untrammeled joy.
Fun, frolicking, whimsical, introspective and sometimes brooding, this album keeps revealing new depths and layers with each and every listen. Definitely a must-have addition to your listening library.