James Mathus & His Knockdown Society

National Antiseptic

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Former Squirrel Nut Zippers frontman James Mathus has worn many hats during his career. From the Zippers' goofy post-vaudeville hot jazz to his own solo experiments with Delta blues, he has been a tough guy to pin down, and National Antiseptic is no exception. On this 2001 release, James Mathus & His Knockdown Society churn out dirty and gritty swamp blues with an authentic fervor that similar artists like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and White Stripes have also toyed with. Drums are pushed into the red on almost every track, eclipsed only by Mathus' crunched-out electric guitar and his loose juke joint murmurs and howls. Like other successful white blues interpreters (Koerner, Ray & Glover in the '60s and G. Love & Special Sauce in the '90s come to mind), Mathus seems to draw from a well that has eluded Jonny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. This may be because Lang, Shepherd, and their contemporaries are recalling Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan in their tributes, while Mathus & His Knockdown Society seem to have stacks of old Charlie Patton and Lightnin' Hopkins 78s in their briefcase full of blues. Whatever the reasons, these guys certainly play an authentic brand of roots music, sounding as if most of the record could have come out on Fat Possum records alongside T-Model Ford and R.L. Burnside's recent recordings. Barroom stomps like "Innit for the Money" and "Stranger" stand out as highlights, recalling not only early electric blues records, but a little stride piano and honkin' R&B saxophone as well. Those expecting a continuation of Mathus' work from any of his previous incarnations may be disappointed, but anyone who appreciates a good, loose, gritty blast through some time-honored musical styles will be warmly delighted.

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