Posts Tagged ‘Fat Possum’

Jimbo Mathus & The Tri-State Coalition: Dark Night of the Soul

Friday, March 7th, 2014

JimboMathus_DarkNightOfTheSoulOutstanding album of rootsy, blue rock ‘n’ soul

Squirrel Nut Zippers founder Jimbo Mathus actually never strayed far from the blues of his native Mississippi. Just as the Zippers were taking off in the late ’90s, he recorded an album of Delta blues, ragtime and jug band music in honor of Charley Patton, and in financial support of Patton’s daughter (and one-time Mathus nanny), Rosetta. Following the Zippers’ initial disbanding in 2000, he toured and recorded with Buddy Guy, set up his own studio, and began a string of albums that explored the many Southern flavors with which he grew up. In 2011 he waxed Confederate Buddha, his first album with the Tri-State Coalition, and explored various shades of country, soul, blues and rock ‘n’ roll.

The band’s third album knits together many of the same musical threads, but in a finer mesh than the debut, and with an edge that leans more heavily on rock, blues and soul. You can pick out moments that suggest the Stones (and by derivation, the Black Crowes), but a closer parallel might be an older, grizzled version of Graham Parker, as Mathus sings his deeply felt, soulful declarations and confessions. There’s a confidence in these performances that suggest songs workshopped for months on the road, but in reality they were developed over a year of casual studio time, and nailed by Mathus in demo sessions and by the band live in the studio. Mathus connects with these songs as if they’re extemporaneous expression, and like the best slow-cooked ribs, the exterior may be lightly charred, but the heart remains tender.

Listeners will enjoy the swampy southern rock and hint of Hendrix in “White Angel,” Memphis soul (and a lyrical tip to Lou Reed) in “Rock & Roll Trash,” and the Neil Young-styled fire of “Burn the Ships.” Matt Pierce’s and Eric “Roscoe” Ambel’s guitars are featured throughout, with scorching electric leads answering Mathus’ vocals. The album turns to country for the moonshiner story “Hawkeye Jordan” and Casey Jones (the railroad engineer, not the Grateful Dead song) is given an original spin in “Casey Caught the Cannonball.” Mathus covers a lot of ground between the love song “Shine Like a Diamond” and the addict’s lament, “Medicine,” but it’s the album’s unrelenting rock ‘n’ soul intensity that will both will keep your undivided attention. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

Jimbo Mathus’ Home Page

Lissie: Catching a Tiger

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

Lissie gets trapped by the mainstream aspirations of Sony UK

Listening to Lissie’s major label debut is a familiar experience, in that she’s not the first artist to surrender the organic qualities of her roots in the process of aiming for a larger audience. Where her debut EP, Why You Runnin’, turned deeply confessional moments into arresting outbursts of emotion, her follow-up feels forcedly written, sung and played. Where the debut offered the studio as a space in which Lissie could be heard singing, the album is filled with placeless overproduction that, aside from the quality of Lissie’s voice, sounds disappointingly like other pop records on the market. The edginess that made Lissie’s earlier vocals so magnetic is lost here as she’s forced to compete with gratuitously busy arrangements; it feels as if the producers didn’t trust her voice to keep listeners’ attention.

The double-tracked “Stranger” does provide a clever modern twist on Buddy Holly and Bobby Fuller, but it’s only a moment’s respite from the album’s banal guitar solos and pop-rock arrangements. The minutes of deep artistic accomplishment belong to the songs brought forward from the EP: “Little Lovin’,” “Everywhere I Go” and “Oh Mississippi.” On these, Lissie’s voice is riveting, the arrangements build tension rather than volume, and the instruments create atmosphere rather than distracting complexity. Lissie’s moving, gospel-based homage to the mother river is perfectly set to a sparse arrangement of piano, chorus and distant tambourine, and the spine-tingling emotion shot into lyrics like “danger will follow me, now, everywhere I go” are unmatched by any of the newer performances.

It’s unclear whether Lissie felt the need to try something new, or her label wanted to produce something with a better shot at mainstream success. Rather than spending time developing a relationship with a sympathetic producer, the sessions shuffled their artist between Jacquire King, Bill Reynolds, Julian Emery and Ed Harcort, none of whom knew enough to lay back and let the power of Lissie’s voice – and more importantly, the spaces she creates – lead the way. It’s like hearing David Kahne’s airbrush of the Bangles after having grown to love the raw folk-rock of their David Leon-produced debut EP – disappointing. Those new to Lissie may not miss the unique edges and earthen folkiness, but the breathtaking artistic force Lissie unleashed on Why You Runnin’ hasn’t been caught here. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Lissie’s Home Page
Lissie’s MySpace Page

Before

After

Interestingly, the acappella walk through the field isn’t part of the album track.

Lissie: Why You Runnin’

Friday, November 20th, 2009

Lissie_WhyYouRunninArresting, intense folk-rock Americana

Lissie Maurus is a folk-rock singer from the west Illinois border town of Rock Island. Although there’s a rustic Midwestern edge to her Americana, her transplantation to Los Angeles, and national and international gigs have elevated her music beyond coffee-house strumming. Her voice pulls you in close with confessional introductions and then attacks with arresting outbursts of emotion. The exclamation of “danger will follow me now everywhere I go, angels will fall on me and take me to my home” finds her bending back from the microphone to make room for a lungful of emotion. The empty spaces in the studio add presence and dimension as she steps back to keep the needles from pinning red with her fervor.

There’s a bluesy edge in her vocals, not unlike Joan Osborne, but with the earthier, more distracted air of Edie Brickell. The productions often arc from contemplative openings to emotional conclusions. “Little Lovin’” rolls through its first half with only a bass drum (and your toe-tapping) to keep the beat, but a deep bottom end rolls in, Lissie’s vocals rise and hand-clapping rhythms spur the vocals to soar into full-throated scatting. The abandon with which she vocalizes has the improvisational verve of a live jam, blowing past the artifice of studio recording. Her cover of Hank Williams’ “Wedding Bells” turns its despondency from hangdog to forlorn, and the original male-perspective lyrics (“you wanted me to see you change your name”) gain additional layers when sung in a woman’s voice.

An ode to Lissie’s native river, “Oh Mississippi,” is sung with a gospel piano and overdubbed choir, and though it may remind you of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” it turns into a fervent elegy for the failing industrial heart of America. Here too Lissie hits a second gear to bring the song to a tremendous emotional climax. Bill Reynolds’ production is spare but filled with touches – a tambourine or a tom-tom riff – that provide instrumental accents that complement the vocal dynamics. He leaves Lissie up-front, where listeners can hang on to both her emphatic notes and dramatic pauses. A full LP recorded in Nashville with a pickup band and producer Jacquire King is apparently sitting in the can, but it’s hard to imagine it captured Lissie in such disarmingly naked moments as this brilliant five-song EP. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Little Lovin’
MP3 | Everywhere I Go
Lissie’s MySpace Page