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Covering all the musical bases

National Antiseptic
National Antiseptic
By James Mathus and his Knockdown Society

Mammoth Records: 2001

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This review first appeared in the January 19, 2002 edition of the American Reporter.

A founding member of the Squirrel Nut Zippers – which was one of the founding bands of the new-swing revival – James Mathus' musical curiosity is apparently unable to be fed by one style, one band.

His latest album, "National Antiseptic," is as removed from the light, fun sound of the Zippers as one might imagine. Deeply immersed in the swamp boogie of Louisiana, the music here draws equally from blues and country. Whatever his musical influences, the dark, brooding sound on "National Antiseptic" calls up the spirits of both Screaming Jay Hawkins and Jim Morrison.

But stylistically, Mathus and his Knockdown Society band are closer to a lot of the rough-hewn blues and blues-rock that's been coming out of the deep South and Midwest since the latest blues revival began in the early '80s. He sings a bit like James Solberg, plays guitar with a voodoo-blues sound like the late John Campbell, and can switch from blues to a country barn-dance like the Beat Farmers.

It's this ability to cover just about any American style that puts Mathus in select company. Like the above-mentioned Beat Farmers or their more-famous brethren, the Blasters, Mathus is a spiritual descendant of the musicians who first melded country and blues to form rock 'n' roll. Stick him in Sam Phillips' Sun Studios in the 1950s, and Mathus would have fit right in with Roy Orbison and James Cotton, B.B. King and Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Ike Turner.