by Karim Doumar
There are country singers, rock n’ roll artists and blues and jazz performers out there. Then there’s Jimbo Mathus who does it all.
“My curiosity and my creative spirit [were] pretty restless and pretty eager to know about all of these things,” he said of the different genres. Mathus is currently touring with a group called the Tri-state Coalition.
He writes the music and the lyrics and they perform it together. His most recent album, Blue Healer, is a wonderful blend of the many genres with which Mathus has acquainted himself over a more than 30-year career.
“I’m forty-eight and I’ve been involved in music full time since I was 16 and even before that as a performer,” Mathus said, adding “really I started when I was six years old.”
Over the years, Mathus has had some great mentors in his quest to learn about the different genres and styles of music. “I’ve learned from masters like Al Casey of the swing era and Buddy Guy of the blues era,” Mathus said. Mathus prides himself on the fact that he can explore multiple genres all with his own unique flavor.
“I’m able to figure out how to get to the very heart of it where I’m not just copying or aping something but I’m actually performing that style and that sound in a real way,” he said.
Mathus has built his repertoire over the years only through “a lot of practice and a lot of study in roots music,” he said. The key is not just studying the music, but also “how techniques of playing them are similar and how they’re different,” Mathus said.
Blue Healer, which can be heard live at Hill Country Barbecue in D.C. on Thursday, July 30 at 9 p.m., is not just unique and personal musically but also lyrically. The album is about an old southern character, an old friend of Mathus who has struggled throughout the years.
“We basically call him a wild ass,” he said of his friend’s unfiltered personality, “he’s just a person of appetites.” The album follows this character as he goes “through some trials and tribulations and then it’s like a redemption thing for him to work through all of this,” Mathus said. The character works “to actually get to a higher spiritual level or to have an awakening or realization,” Mathus said.
For Mathus, finding the right words comes easy. “I’ve never sat down with a blank piece of paper and a pencil and said ‘I have to write something.’ I’ll be taking the trash to the trashcan and I’ll just, all of a sudden, have an idea and I’ll go back inside and jot it down and that’s it.”
Despite this free-association songwriting method, as his career has progressed, Mathus increasingly tries to make cohesive albums that are not just random collections of songs.
“I’ve been editing my material to get songs that fit together and then, as I see things evolving, I’ll consciously put some things together to fill in the gaps,” he said of his process.
Like any great artist, progress is always on his mind. “I want to communicate and be understood and be heard as a writer so I’m always trying to improve,” he said. Once everything is written, Mathus and his band must perform and tour to get the message across.
“We’re just sort of a rock n’ roll band on the road,” he said. And he’ll admit that they put on a pretty good show. “I try to be a good entertainer and engage the people,” he said.
• For more information about Jimbo Mathus, visit jimbomathus.com.