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Published: 2011/05/24
by Brian Robbins

Jimbo Mathus
Confederate Buddha

Memphis International Records

Hold me to one word to describe Confederate Buddha, the new album from Jimbo Mathus and his Tri-State Coalition, and I’ll give you this:


Allow me two words and I’ll give you these:

Goddamn real.

The album’s dozen tracks sound real, for one thing. Making use of the sonic hoodoo contained within the walls of his Delta Recording Studio in Como, MS (a converted storefront that shares a building with the local Post Office), Mathus’ recording techniques make for a dry and immediate sound. From the gentler moments of Confederate Buddha (sop up the flannel-shirted Zen of “Wheel Upon Wheel”) to its nuts-to-the-wall rockers (including “Shady Dealings”, which gets the total vintage Stones treatment, from crunch-and-twang guitars to barroom piano swagger and “whoo-hoo” backing vox) the music is always right there. Sometimes it’s in your face; sometimes it’s in your lap – but it’s always right there.

Listen to the opener “Jimmy The Kid” for a minute or two and see if you can figure out how Mathus keeps the arrangement so stripped down and pure – yet full and driving at the same time. (Hint: I believe it was Keith Richards who somewhere along the line said something about it taking an acoustic guitar underneath it all to make a great rock song.)

And the music feels real, as well. There are a lot of people who, if they tried to go honky-tonking with ol’ Hank Williams’ ghost as authentically as Mathus and the Coalition do on “Town With No Shame”, just couldn’t pull it off. When it comes to music like that, you’re either real or you’re a caricature. From special guest Forest Parker’s weeping pedal steel to Justin Showah’s gut bucket-toned bass, all the track needs is a little bit of old AM radio crackle and you might be listening to a “Mother’s Best Flour” radio show that just drifted in after being lost in the ozone for 60 years or so.

Or dig the funky blues lurch of “Leash My Pony”: rhythm like that starts in the marrow. Don’t bother trying to count the shit out of it – just be it. Or how about the love that bubbles over the top of “Walks Beside”? As soulful as an old Muscle Shoals classic with a bit of sweet raggedness wrapped around it, “Walks Beside” is the kind of tune that other songwriters listen to and say, “Damn – I wish I’d written that.” (Both Parker and Telecaster master Matt Pierce lay down absolutely handsome solos on “Walks”, as well.)

It doesn’t matter if Mathus and company are dealing with facts (the whiskey-soaked history of “Aces & Eights”) or voodoo-fueled mysticism (the greasy funk of “Kine Joe”) – the vibe is just the same: burrow up in the thing and let ‘er go.

The late Graham Parson’s dream was to make “cosmic American music.”

Jimbo Mathus’ reality is “interplanetary honky-tonk.”

And the proof is Confederate Buddha.

God rest Graham Parson’s soul.

Long live Jimbo Mathus.

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