Jimbo Mathus is a redneck poet. Dark Night of the Soul is his latest edition of backwoods verse and it may be his strongest yet.
It opens with a simple piano and Jimbo's wild-man southern soul-singing before kicking in with a Muscle Shoals bass-line on the title track. The tune never really cuts loose musically, but Mathus' full throat delivery is all you need to know he means business.
"White Angel" follows that up with a slow burning southern rocker about a cocaine addiction. Whoever he's singing to isn't being judged, merely presented with the sad truths of his dependent existence. This song and the sadsack lament "Tallahatchie," later on the album, were co-written by our dearly departed pal Robert Earl Reed. They are passionate monuments to Reed's talent and heart.
"Writing Spider" is a powerful and deceptively simple look at faith, loss and regret. Jimbo's strength as a writer who can project universal questions onto simple moments is on full display here. Imagine William Faulkner wrote a Tom Petty song.
My favorite cut on Dark Night is "Medicine." It's a loping, trippy portrait of a man about to run smack into a wall of drug withdrawal. "Hey doctor, bring me my fix" he yearns, with the dawning realization that sickness is creeping in quickly.
Dark Night of the Soul presents all facets of Jimbo Mathus: soul-singer, folksy storyteller, strutting rocker, country songwriter - there's little he can't do and sound like a master doing it. The most gripping thing about this record is just how little Mathus holds back. He's found his groove and is barreling headlong and breathlessly forward.