On his fourth album, ex-Squirrel Nut Zippers
continues to mine the dirty, swampy blues-rock that he has been mired in throughout his solo career. Recording at his own Clarksdale, MS-based Delta Recording Service studio, Mathus
kept the sound stripped down but full. He even goes acoustic on a few tracks, in particular the Stonesy
"Loose Diamonds," an Exile on Main St.
-styled tune augmented by a small but effective horn section. Rather than keep the same backing unit for each track, Mathus
lists over a dozen musicians who contribute to the album, but frustratingly does not specify what song each played on. The sound thumps and pumps along as Mathus
rides on scuzzy riffs such as the grimy rocking of "Be That Way" and the opening "Crazy Bout You." He keeps his guitar solos as ragged as the music, creating a mood that boogies along at its own pace. The vibe shifts into early Allman Brothers Band
mode on "Rolling Like a Log," a slab of Southern funk driven by organ, nasty slide guitar, and a "Whipping Post" intensity that works despite the obvious ABB
influence. Bubbling congas, backing female vocals, and Mathus
' low-key singing propel the soulful ballad "Hypnotized." Those elements add a mysterious and slightly dangerous texture to the song. Mathus
even goes straight honky tonk on the unplugged "Loving Arms," with impressive results. The closing solo gospel of "Asked My Captain" brings it all home. Certainly his most diverse offering, Knockdown South
is a tough, jagged, yet electrifying album that shows the terse power of Southern blues-rock when it is played by musicians with vision and an understanding of the genre's muddy roots.