When you get a new record from Mr. Jimbo Mathus you need to know two things. One, you never know what you will get from one song to the next and two you can count on it all being freakin’ brilliant. Mr. Mathus and his Tri-State Coalition are back with a new record, Dark Night Of The Soul, and these guys just keep getting better. With last year’s White Buffalo finding a regular home on many “Best of 2013” lists Mathus and gang wasted no time building off of that momentum and have unleashed a 12 song gem that may even be better.
The record has a powerful beginning relying on Mathus’ raw vocals before Matt Pierce kicks in with a smoldering bluesy guitar on “Dark Night of The Soul”. The brooding track about sin and salvation contains some of the best lyrics delivered on the album. You can feel the desperation in Mathus’ voice as he begs to be taken to heaven. Following the opening track is “White Angel” which has similar subject matter. Within the 70’s sounding rock tune loaded with chunky guitars and thumping rhythms the question is posed, “are you redeemed in the flutter of her wings”? Not all songs follow this format, the rest of the album is loaded with the electric mayhem, southern Memphis soul, country infusion and bluesy swagger listeners come to expect from Mathus. A down home feel is the focal point of the folksy “Tallahatchie”, you think of George Jones on the countrified “Hawkeye Jordan” and the band explodes on the rocking “Rock & Roll Trash”. One of my favorite tracks is the tune “Casey Caught The Cannonball” about Casey Jones, a figure that seems to be a favorite of musicians. This track oozes influences of The Band and you can picture Levon Helm or Rick Danko singing lead as comfortably as Jimbo. The best song of the bunch has to be “Writing Spider”. This song is Mathus the storyteller at his best as he paints a vivid picture of a guy struggling with his past and forging a better future.
Dark Night of the Soul may be Jimbo Mathus & the Tri-State Coalition’s masterpiece as they perfectly mix music and words to conjure up an album with no weaknesses. Mathus wears the hats of singer, musician, storyteller and man of wisdom as he weaves tales of the rural south, the power of love and life choices. The songs are raw, blunt and filled with revelation, despair, sadness and joy making the listener want to play them over and over again. If you want to listen to mindless repetitive music then move along but if you want something more substantial than stick around and enjoy this record.