by Joe Meazle
Friday night’s show at White Water Tavern was a celebration of what was and still is right with the South and Southern culture. Mathus seems to have a vast understanding and great reverence for a variety of Southern musical traditions. He does not, however, allow those traditions to weigh him down like some historical re-enactor might, and he certainly makes no attempt to keep those traditions separate. Mathus calls this updated amalgamation “catfish music for the masses.” If he ran a catfish house, I’m pretty sure it would be the kind of place that had no pretention whatsoever. It would be the kind of place that has a roll of paper towels right there on the table, stocks more than one type of hot sauce, and serves cold beer in 40 oz. bottles. You know, that semi-secret destination kind of place where friends will drive for miles to meet up and have a great meal and a great time. Mathus’s brand of” catfish” music serves up that kind of “forget your troubles” experience.
More after the jump.
The show kicked off with “Shady Dealing,” a revved-up honky-tonk number that does indeed give a mention to dog racing over in West Memphis. They went into “Cling to the Roots” next, a large-sound country song that mentions recent tragedies, including the BP gulf oil spill and the flooding of Nashville in 2010. The song doesn’t dwell on the tragedy, instead offering several imperatives on how to see oneself though it all. “Tell it to the Judge” and “Leash My Pony,” followed, the latter of which I suspect may well be a tip of the hat to Charley Patton’s early blues classic “Pony Blues.” The first set also included the beer-drinking retro country sound of “Time with No Shame” and the deep-fried southern -funk of “Kine Joe.” By the end of the first set everyone in the room was shaking it.
The second set was every bit as strong and included “Wheel upon Wheel,” “Sop My Gravy “ and the absolutely infectious “Jimmy the Kid.” The audience was also treated to new material from Mathus’ current project, “White Buffalo.” There’s a Kickstarter campaign going to fund this album, and if what I heard at White Water is any indication, a contribution would be a sound investment. But don’t take my word for it, check out the “Letter from Jimbo” video on the Kickstarter website. Late in the second set, Arkansas guitar legend and the pride of Pangburn, Greg Spradlin, came up on stage to sit in for a few songs including an utterly badass version of Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land.”
Skinny, scrawny Mathus has such a big, fat larger-than-life personality that it can be easy to overlook the rest of the Tri-State Coalition, but don’t make that mistake. They’re one hell of a band and a perfect fit for Mathus. The boys in the band play together tighter than the bark on a tree and they all look like they mean business, which provides a contrasting backdrop for Jimbo’s light-up-the-room, gold-toothed smile. Justin Showah lays down the firm foundation on bass with workman-like precision and intensity. Arkansas’s own Matt Pierce provides lead guitar work and at time looks like he might actually be wringing the neck of that sea foam green Fender Telecaster (complete with non-copyright-infringing red wild hog stencil ). Eric Carlton fills out the sound with his effortless-sounding keyboard work. A new drummer for this tour, Ryan Rogers, seemed to be holding his own and maybe even a little extra.
It may border on cliché, but a great deal of Southern music, whether it is blues, country, bluegrass, gospel or rockabilly, so often seems to be about finding a way to lay your troubles down and feel good, if even for just a little while. I have to say, that thanks to Jimbo Mathus and the Tri-State Coalition, I left the White Water Tavern on Friday night feeling good, without a trouble in sight.