There is no more sympathetic record label for Jimbo Mathus’ raw combination of country, blues, rock and roll and gospel than Fat Possum. It helps that Possum honcho Bruce Watson owns the Dial Back Sound Studio located in Taylor, Mississippi near Mathus’ home. The proximity allowed Jimbo the luxury of taking his time for this sophomore release on the imprint, crafting songs, capturing the best takes and taking a full year to stitch together this dozen track set.
Despite the extended process, these tightly constructed selections—none are over four minutes– flow with steely determination and a surprisingly relaxed vibe. Most were live in the studio creations recorded with his road band and a few guests such as guitarist Eric “Roscoe” Amble (the Del-Lords, Steve Earle, the Bottle Rockets), who produced Mathus’ last album and clearly knows his way around rootsy rocking. As the disc’s name implies, there is a grainy, contemplative vibe to songs such as the title track, “Medicine,” “Butcher Bird” and “Burn the Ships.” Mathus’ edgy, flinty voice emphasizes that aspect as well. But contemplative does not equate to quiet as the tangled guitar heavy Crazy Horse styled approach to the latter tune displays. There are sunnier pop moments and in “Shine Like a Diamond,” even a love song. Highlights included the heavily Band influenced, wiry backwoods churchy funk of “Fire in the Canebreak” and the tale of moonshiner “Hawkeye Jordan” that would have been perfect for Levon Helm to sing.
There are no throwaways or weak tracks, a distinction shared by few other albums. Rather Mathus brings his “A” game, honed from a 20 year career starting with his work in the Squirrel Nut Zippers, to a batch of tough tunes that feel as soaked in the Mississippi experience as he is. This is arguably the finest from his sadly under heard catalog of similarly styled solo recordings that are uncompromising, rugged and rooted in the rustic swamp of the South.