Mathus first achieved notice as co-leader of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, a band which merged with the swing revivalists of the '90s while never being as blatantly single-minded as that sounds. With the dawning of the millennium, that band broke up and Mathus began delving deeper and deeper into the blues. Mathus could never be called a straight blues artist, but he was taking inspiration from that wellspring, and making music that clearly referenced steps along the history of the genre.
"White Buffalo," however, finds him playing with a bigger, brighter, bolder sonic palette. It would be unfair to compare this album to "Exile on Main Street," since neither Mathus nor the members of his rock solid Tri-State Coalition are the equal of the Rolling Stones when it comes to delivering blasts of roots genius. Given a much gruffer and less pliable voice than that of Mick Jagger, and guitar skills clearly inspired by the same things that bring joy to Keith Richards, albeit with somewhat less application of pure genius, Mathus takes us on a pretty enjoyable romp through a trove of classic styles.
With a blistering blues rocker such as the title track, or a galloping hook-filled riff-rocker such as "(I Wanna Be) Your Satellite," or a clever country-tinged assessment of personal issues such as "Self?," Mathus manages to walk the tightrope between genre exercises and creative fulfillment which has tripped up more than a few of his forebears and peers. The rest of the album, produced by Eric "Roscoe" Ambel, who knows how to make these kinds of records sound their most invigorating, is less immediately original but just as satisfying. "White Buffalo" may not change any lives, but it's a good album to have nonetheless.
(Local note: The sound engineer for this record is former St. Louisian Mario Viele, known here for his time in St. Louis bands the Pubes and the Sex Robots.)
"White Buffalo" will be released on January 22, 2013 on the Fat Possum label.