Shot Of Rhythm

[ Saturday, June 03, 2006 ]


Roots music

This week, two great records from Mississippians named Jim came out, one from veteran musician/songwriter/performer/raconteur Jim Dickinson (who, on his releases, uses the deserved formality of James Luther Dickinson) and James "Jimbo" Mathus, former Squirrel Nut Zipper who moved back to Mississippi after the Zippers broke up, and who has spent the past seven years making some righteously ragged country-rock-soul-gospel-blues music that bridges as many stylistic lines as the elder Jim - who also has worked with Mathus several times.

I spotlight these two fine purveyors of mud-soaked joyful noise not merely for their own sake, and - as the four tracks here display, their sake is worth plenty - but also to, perhaps, suggest another way of thinking about the kind of racism/authenticity discussions that have imbued discussions of Stephin Merritt's EMP keynote. (See my post on the subject, along with welcome remarks from Carl Wilson and my own reply, here.) Both Mathus and Dickinson have articulated a vision of American music that both acknowledges the brutal, cruel legacy of white supremacy (and its ancillary effects on musical expression), while also attempting to correct the narrative, rewriting back into the story the kind of stylistic miscegenation that has always been a true part of American musical culture, particularly in the South. (This odd dialogue exists not merely between black and white, but - as Mathus explains in his deft liner notes - between racist forms like blackface minstrelsy and the very people they mock). The connection to Merritt and "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" gets sharper: although I didn't post it here, Mathus' new album contains a fine version of "Dixie," perhaps as problematic a song as exists in American music. While any use of the song, particularly by a white guy whose primary stock and trade is blues, should provoke hesitation, Mathus situates it within a musical and spiritual context that aims to remake the song as placed in conversation with Sid Hemphill country-blues (see "Carrier Line"), country gospel ("Old Rugged Cross") and others. Does he completely succeed? Probably not. Does the new album, like his whole career, speak to the endlessly complicated truths and seemingly limitless possibilities? it's really good.

For his part, Dickinson has never acted as though these distinctions matter. He knows they exist, but - in a philosophy defined by his revolutionary philosophy of "world boogie" and ordered by an irreverent love of the deep well of human experience - he'd rather create music that does its best to render them irrelevant. While the roster of artists he's worked with (from Aretha Franklin to John Hiatt to Alvin Youngblood Hart, and everyone in between) has helped illuminate this concept, his own records - unvarnished, unashamed and unfettered - craft their own picture of what historian Bill C. Malone calls "Southern music, American music." Country and blues never stopped being the same thing for Mr. Dickinson, and their many mongrel children - from soul to rock and roll - all get a chair of honor at each and every family reunion.

Fuck segregation...

James Luther Dickinson - "Out of Blue," from JUNGLE JIM AND THE VOODOO TIGER

James Luther Dickinson - "Somewhere Down The Road," from JUNGLE JIM AND THE VOODOO TIGER

James Mathus and Knockdown South - "Old Rugged Cross," from OLD SCHOOL HOT WINGS

James Mathus and Knockdown South - "Carrier Line," from OLD SCHOOL HOT WINGS

On the box right now: Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band, 2006 US TOUR OPENER, Disc 2. This bootleg is almost as good as the actual album, alternately jubilant and deeply reflective. Springsteen hasn't sounded this good in a long, long time.


Dove With Claws [8:17 PM]

[ Thursday, June 01, 2006 ]


Coming attractions

In lieu of a New Release Round-Up, which is coming soon, I thought I'd give you a little sneak peek at three of next week's most promising new releases. All three of these look worth your time.

Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint - "Who's Gonna Help A Brother Get Further?"

Busta Rhymes (feat. Rick James) - "In The Ghetto"

Ice Cube (feat. Snoop Dogg and Lil Jon) - "Go To Church"

(Thanks to APS.)

By the way, I'm very grateful for David Cantwell over at Living In Stereo for pointing folks to my May 15th entry on the Stephin Merritt controversy. For those looking for the entry, it's available here. I also appreciate Zoilus' reference to the entry on his fine site, and his comments to my post, and hope more dialogue gets going on it. (I'll also respond to Zoilus.) Hope my thoughts suit your fancy, but - if not - check out the hot tracks on wax pointing our way into the near future.

I'll be back in a couple days with new music from a couple great, weird Mississippians named Jim.

On the box right now: James Mathus and Knockdown South, OLD SCHOOL HOT WINGS.


Dove With Claws [8:09 PM]

[ Monday, May 29, 2006 ]


Memorial Day

In honor of the holiday, here are seven examples of country music's continuing commitment to articulate the experience of wartime loss, (hopefully) the simplest and least controversial downside to armed conflict. I've picked songs from a variety of conflicts and eras, reaching back through history all the way up to the present. Strange that, though historical contexts change so significantly, the ultimate tragedy of dead soldiers remains strikingly similar.

Johnnie and Jack - "Searchin' For A Soldier's Grave"

Johnny Cash - "Ballad Of Ira Hayes"

Glen Campbell - "Galveston"

Billy Joe Shaver - "Freedom's Child"

Dixie Chicks - "Travelin' Soldier"

Brooks and Dunn - "When We Were Kings"

Tracy Lawrence - "If I Don't Make It Back"

On the box right now: Johnny Cash, PERSONAL FILE, Disc 2.


Dove With Claws [9:06 AM]