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Keep Houston Press Free
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Who the Heck Is This Guy Jimbo Mathus Anyway?

Jimbo Mathus was born in the land of the Mississippi Delta blues, where a singer has one of two choices when catapulting the hill-folk sound into mainstream Americana: Elvis Presley's blues or Huckleberry Finn's country.

Though he looks the part of Finn, with his overalls and swanky countrypolitan shirts in tow, Mathus nails the Presley formula of a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll, always-steeped in deep Delta blues.

It's what Mathus likes to call "catfish music for the masses," and it's the part he was born to play.

Mathus has always been quite the character. Most commonly known as the ringleader of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, he brought an eerie, gumbo-infused ragtime into mainstream pop culture, playing the part of a swing-jazz aficionado well.

But seven CDs into Mathus' ever-expanding solo work, it's clear he has found his true voice.

Effortlessly evoking the spirit of early Presley with some of Bruce Springsteen and Alejandro Escovedo's evil grimy blues, Mathus cooks up some righteous tunes on White Buffalo. Songs like the barnburner "Poor Lost Souls" and the straight-up Southern Gothic rock of "In the Garden" conjure up images of the save-me salvation variety.

Mathus and his stellar group of musicians, the Tri-State Coalition -- a handpicked lot including Matt Pierce (Arkansas), Terrence Bishop (Tennessee), and fellow Mississippians Eric Carlton and Ryan Rogers -- manage to bring the whole of Mathus' musical journey from the days of soul-sucking MTV to newly-penned tunes bred South of the Mason-Dixon line into the limelight again.

Sure, Mathus' projects may have been steeped in the past, but he has never been stuck in it. He shines as brightly today, even with his two gold teeth.

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Mathus spontaneously combusts at Under the Volcano tonight at 8 p.m.


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