JIMBO MATHUS & ANDREW BIRD
A goat should be sacrificed on the trash can smoker/altar of Mississippi magus Jimbo Mathus, a man who has walked a high tension powerline from swing revival (every review of this album will mention his tenure in Squirrel Nut Zippers as if that is really a good origin story) through mutant southern rock to here, at the foothills of acoustic sentimentality.
Andrew Bird seems an odd, well, bird to have on this journey, despite his also having been a Zipper for a millisecond before he embarked on his curious carrer NPR-ready fiddle-and-whistling art-folk-pop (as well as that season of Fargo), but here his sings clear as creek water and his fiddle plucked and sawed rings true against the twang of Jimbo’s guitar. The Coen Brothers should make the documentary of this album’s making.
“Poor Lost Souls'' indeed. Mathus sings about Los Angeles as if he is sitting on a Yazoo City bus stop, surrounded by new dreams and the shattered chunks of old ones. “Sweet Oblivion” gets that folk blues groove going with Bird’s fiddle in full effect, swooping elegant like a vulture for roadkill on the shoulder.
These recordings are consciously intimate. You can hear one of them breathing on “Beat Still My Heart” trying to be quiet and in that, is thunderously human. Now, there is a spate of Appalacianism happening in the underground, wanna-be and real hoboes singing their drug tales with great rawness in the backwoods holler of YouTube, and this record is not that. Mathus and Bird are commensurate stylists, artists who wield atmosphere. That can ruin folk and folkish music, making it too perfect and polished. They tow that line perfectly, like on “High John.” It had the requisite porch jam session looseness, but you get the sense they employed some really nice microphones.
The record gets a little Ken Burns soundtrack in its second half like “Stonewall (1863)” and the resplendent reed organ meditation of “Bright Sunny South” but then, that is the best part of a Ken Burns documentary. One of them gets AM 70s country croon on with “Burn the Honky Tonk” (Not sure which, to be honest. Their voices twine up like a rope swing over a creek at points.) The finale “Three White Horses and a Golden Chain” is six minutes of Johnny Cash-grade funeral dreaming. Like a Dylan song with expert singers and no damned harmonica lousing things up. Instead, Bird’s violin haunts the song while his whistling ties the barge of the dead to the boat landing of the living, bobbing in a floodwater of tears. You imagine these two backing out of a spotlight into darkness never to return at this moment. I suspect they will.
Main photo: Reuben Cox