Jimbo Mathus’ body of work is living proof that if he’s not excited anymore about a particular genre of work, he’s moving on. Yet the restless Mississippi native seems to have found a home close to home over his last three albums, including his latest, Blue Healer.
“I’ve been focused on country rock for the past three records,” he said. “I still work a lot of mediums in, but country rock has been great and I think I’m just gonna keep reconfiguring the southern stew. I don’t feel desperate to move away from it at all. I’m just gonna keep reimagining the southern musical landscape, and I keep getting inspired.”
Well, Blue Healer proves that we’re going to keep listening. A concept album of sorts, Mathus described his latest collection in a recent press release as “the story of a man in a southern landscape who is swept insanely apart by internal and external winds.” That can be a little vague, but the music sets the stage while Mathus’s voice and lyrics tell the story in a way that everyone can relate to. That’s a gift not too many possess.
“Math wasn’t my thing, so words are my thing, and I’m capable of writing anything,” he laughs. “I can write you a legal draft, so putting words together works all around for me, but music was my natural gift, I would say.”
It’s why Mathus, who first made a splash on the world scene with the Squirrel Nut Zippers back in the 90s, is still around and making relevant albums – that unique ability to tell stories through music. And music is such a key part of the operation that he never considered taking his words elsewhere.
“Literature informs my songwriting quite a bit and I’m an avid reader, but at the same time, the music was the thing I was really steeped in and the storytelling involved in that is what I grew up in, so that just seemed to be more my calling,” he said.
And in a world where reading is fading by the Tweet, Mathus can drag people in the door with his music and keep them there with his stories.
“I think that’s a big part of it,” he said. “It’s an immediate thing and you can really capture them quickly. But at the same time, some of my favorite writing that informs my song lyrics would be romantic poetry, where you really use words carefully and you pick your battles, and how you put them together is the key to opening up the story.”
That discipline is what makes the work songwriters like Mathus do so impressive. It’s a lot easier to tell a story in 1,000 words than it is in a three-minute song, but for a true craftsman and one who gets bored easy, it’s the only way to fly.
“You merge the words with the three-minute song, and it’s like a puzzle that you put together,” he said. “My songs tend to be pretty to the point. I’m not really a Dylan guy – I don’t believe in 20 verses (Laughs) – I like to keep it succinct and try to get my story across. I get bored with too many lyrics in a song.”
Jimbo Mathus & The Tri-State Coalition play Hill Country in NYC on Wednesday, July 29. For more information, click here