There’s nothing better than a get together with old friends on a warm summer evening, and while good company and some cold drinks are always a good thing, the real reason to show up to a barbeque is simple. The food. Hard smoked beef brisket, slow cooked pulled pork, fried catfish, burgers and brats…the list goes on and on. Hell, even the quinoa salad that your vegetarian friend brings to share usually turns out pretty good. If diversity is your kind of thing, then a good barbeque is exactly where you should find yourself this summer.
But if you wanna take a cookout to the next level, then a good soundtrack is required. But not just any old album will do. It’s gotta be something diverse, but with a thread of continuity. Something that rocks, but that isn’t completely overbearing. While you could sit down for a few hours and try to curate a good mix, you could save yourself a lot of time and just put Blue Healer, the new album from Jimbo Mathus, on repeat.
For those already acquainted with Jimbo’s music, the diverse musical palate found throughout Blue Healer shouldn’t come as any surprise. As the founder and leader of the alt-jazz sideshow Squirrel Nut Zippers and a member of the blues collective South Memphis String Band, Mathus has always employed a wide range of musical styles in his recordings and Blue Healer is no exception to the rule.
Like the wide-ranging spread found at the best barbeques, Blue Healer offers a little something for everyone. Unlike his last effort, 2014’s Dark Night of the Soul which was far and away the heaviest album of his career, Mathus seems to have rekindled his love for stitching together disparate styles of music into his own unique gumbo of sound. From the deep fried southern rock of album opener “Shoot Out the Lights” to the gospel-tinged call and response stomp of “Love and Affection” which closes out the record, Blue Healer offers listeners a journey through numerous styles of Americana music at it’s finest.
There’s plenty of meat on the bone throughout Blue Healer with songs like “Ready to Run” and “Save it for the Highway” reprising the Springsteen-esque southern bounce of Mathus’ Tri-State Coalition outings, and while they are fine songs they don’t do justice to the depth of Mathus’ songwriting capability. But it’s when Mathus slows things down a little bit when the real treats begin. The albums title track is a slinking slow burner, built on a deep groove, but with an unsettling edge. It’s a gritty and captivating song, in the same vein as his 2013 masterpiece “Run Devil Run.” Likewise, the feedback drenched “Coyote” is a harrowing tale of isolation and loneliness that’s sure to have you coming back for seconds.
There’s no doubt that Blue Healer‘s foundation is rooted in the traditions of the deep south, but unlike Mathus’ contemporaries from the area, he never stays in one genre for long. From one song to the next, Blue Healer changes directions but never loses it’s way. Take the twangy, moonshine-soaked bluster of “Old Earl” next to either of the songs that bookend it and you’ll see exactly what I mean. This album truly is a celebration of diversity, a grand declaration of doing what you like and not giving a shit about the rest and at the end of the day, isn’t that what really matters? Well, that and a heaping plate of smoked short ribs.