Wednesday night, my wife Anne opened for Jimbo Mathus at Night Cat, a tiny (but mighty) club in Easton. Anne played seven songs—two with our daughter, Posie, singing back-up!—and that, in itself, was thrilling. They headed home after their set, and I figured I’d catch three or four of Jimbo’s songs and do the same. But after two songs, I knew there was no chance I’d be headed for the door any time soon. He hooked me like a catfish and kept me there for the duration.
Like most folks, I know Jimbo primarily as a founder of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, the retro swing/hot jazz band that proved to be the most unlikely hit of the 1990s. Based in North Carolina, they were huge, selling millions of CDs and charting with hit singles like “Hell” in 1997. But their sepia-toned act faded quickly, and Jimbo retreated to his native Mississippi and honed his blues/rock chops.
It proved to be an excellent move, because he has a great feel for the music, and that’s what Wednesday night’s show was all about—feeling. Jimbo lit up the room with a combination of electrifying showmanship, down in the groove swamp rock, and southern gentlemanliness. And keep in mind, this was a Wednesday night in Easton with about 50 people in the audience, some of whom were obviously expecting a Squirrel Nut spin-off. I think Jimbo disappointed them, at first, and then, intrigued them, before completely winning them over.
As the band tore into a few Stones-ish rockers, an older couple in front of me looked baffled and shrugged their shoulders. A few songs later, they were nodding their heads, and that gave way to swaying in unison, as the band downshifted into a few countrified weepers and Dixie-fried shuffles. By the end of the night, they’d discovered their hips and were rubbing up against one another like they’d been transported to some backwoods jukejoint.
Chalk it up to the power of Jimbo and his band, the Tri-State Coalition. They didn’t impress the audience so much as they converted them. It was downright evangelical, and I, for one, will go see the band anytime they’re playing in Baltimore, DC, Philly, Delaware, anywhere within a few hours drive. It was that much fun.
They also have a new CD, Confederate Buddha, that deserves some attention. Head on over to iTunes and download a few songs—I’d recommend “Town With No Shame,” “Kine Joe,” “Jimmy the Kid,” “Days of High Cotton,” and “Who’ll Sop My Gravy” (that last one’s off Jimbo’s previous disc). Better yet, order the new CD from Memphis International Records. They deserve the business.
All hail, Jimbo.