We've aimed to get Jimbo Mathus to play at Turnrow since we opened the store two years ago. His album Knockdown South has the most consistent plays on our in-house jukebox since we opened, and it has to be our number one unheard seller, sold to music fans on faith, based on our enthusiasm. Now the stars have aligned and Jimbo comes to Greenwood on Thursday to play at our book party for Martha Foose. If you need another excuse to come down and party with us, let this serve.
Jimbo is well known on the Mississippi music scene, and as genuine a performer as you're likely to find. Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi All-Stars explained it well: "Jimbo Mathus is a link in what I call the 'crazy Mississippi white-boy' chain of music that goes all the way back through Elvis Presley to Jimmie Rogers … white musicians playing black music and influencing people in both cultures." You'll catch him playing juke joints and picnics (and bookstore parties for friends) before you'll see his band in an arena, which is probably why he's not better known. But then again, Mississippi tends to let its best artists ripen on the vine before the rest of the world discovers them.
Jimbo grew up in Clarksdale and learned music early from his father, who, with his buddies, played "beer-drinking gospel" on banjos and mandolins. His nanny was Rosetta Patton, the daughter of blues founding father Charley Patton. You can't come by it more honestly than that.
Many will know Jimbo indirectly as a founding member of the Chapel Hill band the Squirrel Nut Zippers, who were favorites in the 1990s with their eclectic mix of ragtime and gypsy jazz. After several years with the Zippers, Jimbo moved back to Mississippi and began recording music steeped in country and blues. He opened his own recording studio and worked with a slew of underground Mississippi acts, as well as notables like Elvis Costello, who came up with an EP's worth of material called The Clarksdale Sessions, available on the deluxe edition of his Mississippi-based album The Delivery Man.
Jimbo's love and fluency in the blues and country tradition is perhaps best exhibited on Knockdown South, which we bestow on curious visitors and recommend to newcomers as a kind of Exile on Main Street for a new generation of Mississippians. The album sounds like it could have been made in the 1960s or '70s, leaping from country and rock to blues and cotton patch soul with songs like "Stateline Women," "Skateland Baby" and "Let Me Be Your Rocker." ("Let me be yo rocker/ Honey, til yo straight chair comes.")
His last album was Old Scool Hot Wings, a stripped-down jug band project that paid homage to the earliest Mississippi music, from gospel to country to blues. This is the real stuff — stand up and jump around one minute, sit down and cry in your beer the next. Imagine a cross between Hank Williams and R.L. Burnside.
We eagerly await the next album, Jimmy the Kid, ready to roll in a few weeks, Jimbo assured us. Until then, you'll want to get down to Turnrow and hear his jug band Thursday from 5-7, followed by his rock band at the Alluvian. ("It's the same band," he said. "We just change shirts.") If you're too far and tired, give a listen at Jimbo's website, or do like so many others, trust us and buy it sound unheard here and here.