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"I saw two people that looked like they needed someone," Pierce said. Jennifer was just back in Arkansas after having lived in Ireland, and she was more than a little reluctant to answer when Mathus called to ask her out. But she finally agreed to go on a date.
"Well, he was willing to drive an hour and a half from his place in Mississippi to Jonesboro, Ark.," she said. "I didn't feel like I could say no." On a hot summer day they went fishing and caught a solitary sun perch. A month later they would be engaged.
Another Arkansas/Mathus connection involves Conway native and fellow Fat Possum recording artist Jim Mize, who has been working on a new album of his own. In the past he has enlisted Tennessee guitar wizard John Paul Keith for studio work. Keith was not available for a session due to scheduling issues but Mathus was. The two had not worked together before, but Mize, familiar with Mathus' resume, was willing and eager to give it a go. He was impressed with the results. "We went into the studio as musical strangers and walked out as musical brothers," Mize said of the recording.
Going in that studio was key, because it gave Mathus a chance to walk into Fat Possum at just the right time. Given the considerable overlap between what Mathus does and what Fat Possum does, you have to ask: Why did it take so long for the two to come together? It's not for lack of trying. Mathus said he has pretty much sent the label everything he has done. This time he handed them "White Buffalo" and it was exactly what they'd been looking for from him.
" 'White Buffalo' is named for and written for Takota, the pure white (not albino) buffalo that died at Tupelo Buffalo Park in Tupelo, Miss., two years ago. They are incredibly rare and considered omens, blessings and frequently fulfill prophecy. He represents to me a deeper level of our local culture and mythology here in the hilly country of North Mississippi," Mathus told me.
There is much to like on the record, which may well be Mathus' best work to date. It's a mixed bag that conjures up everything from Hendrix to Hank Sr. without aping or simply mimicking anything along the way.
Found within the album's 10 tracks are blistering Southern rock riffs, heartfelt reflective ballads, back-road pop tunes and eerie midnight highway dirges. The record really seems to show off Mathus' songwriting and the Tri-State Coalition's versatility while Eric "Roscoe" Ambel's production keeps them reined in just enough. Ambel's relationship with Mathus is a new one and I hope it continues. It's early in '13 but I am sure that "White Buffalo" will be one of my favorite albums of the year.
Mathus isn't shy about expressing his pride in the album.
"As far as the recording itself, I've made some good recordings, but none great like this. I've had some great bands but none like Tri-State Coalition. I've written some good songs but none like these. The Mayan calendar has rolled over. This seems like a new beginning to me."
On Feb. 15, Jimbo Mathus & the Tri-State Coalition play an album release show at the White Water Tavern, a venue that has hosted Mathus and company many times. It's no surprise then that Matt White, one of the owner/operators of the White Water, is a longtime supporter and patron of Mathus and his music. So on the off chance that the record doesn't grab you, the live show certainly will. "Watch his eyes when he performs," White said. "There is an electrifying charisma and he believes in every damn word that he sings and note that he plays."