June 1998
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Music review--Jas. Mathus and his Knockdown Society -- Play Songs for Rosetta

By Jessica Brandt


Some of you might be shocked to find this out, but Puff Daddy is NOT the preserver of old music. Sure, he might be bringing extra cash to Jimmy Page, but the historical content is nil.
Somtimes, in order to get to your musical roots, you have to start at the present, and dig a little to find them. Jimbo Mathus, of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, has done the dirty work for you and now it's your duty as an American to sit back and "dig it." As if Mathus hasn't done enough by blessing present-day America with his fabulous Zipper-fied swing, he now brings us Play Songs for Rosetta which is even further up the musical family tree than swing.
Delta blues is indeed the grandaddy of rock'n roll, and its musicians included Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Charlie Patton. Lucky for us, Mathus discovred that 80-year old Rosetta Patton-Brown, his childhood "nanny," just happens to be the daughter of tha same Charlie Patton. Recently, after Rosetta had a stroke and her family became strapped with medical bills, Mathus got together some of the delta's finest musicians and went to work on a benefit album for her. The musicians include Blind Melon's Glenn Graham on drums, members of Missippi's Gut-Bucket on washtub bass, washboard (yessir, WASHBOARD) and slide guitar, the Zipper's Stu Cole on upright bass, and other friends throughout.
Play Songs for Rosetta is not a new Squirrel Nut Zippers album. Unless you've been dipping into the rye, you probably can't dance to it. However, this album has every bit of heart and soul as Mathus' other work displays. Taking on his third moniker (other than Jas. and Jimbo), "Hambone" plays guitar and sings from the deepest reaches of his body to deliver his dead-on mimic of the tortured delta blues soul. He laughs and romps through such tracks as "I Got Mine," "Keep Your Hands Off," and "Diggin' My Potatoes." Things slow up a bit for the traditional "Jesus is a Dying Bed Maker" and "Blues for a Blind Melon" (that Melon being Graham's former bandmate, Shannon Hoon). Traditional blues spoken-word is utilized on the tounge-in-cheek "Turkey Buzzard in a Pork Pie Hat" and Patton's own "Some of These Days." Of the 14 songs, about 50% are new material, while the rest are covers of Ledbetter, Patton, or traditional tunes.
If you're a music lover, buy this album. If you're a Zipper fan who isn't just into them because they're from the Buzz Bin, buy this album. If you're tired of the staleness of new music, buy this album. If you want something old that's really something new, buy this album. If you got some extra cash, buy me another copy, too. Mine's already scratched.

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