Thursday, May 26, 2016

Ian Siegal and Jimbo Mathus - Cluny 2, Newcastle, 22 May 2016

No, this wasn’t directed at me.  Nor was it me having some delusional moment, and deciding that I really didn’t like the acoustic show being delivered by Ian Siegal and Jimbo Mathus.  It was getting close to the end of their set, and my patience had finally snapped
Captain Catfish - aka Jimbo Mathus
with the couple sitting about 10 feet from me, who had been talking to each other throughout the show.  Incessantly.
Let’s park the unwelcome distractions though, shall we?  Ian Siegal and Jimbo Mathus form a charmingly, expertly ragged acoustic Transatlantic duo, alternating their own songs and excavating blues and roots classics to recreate a Deep South, on-the-porch-with-a-beer, musical session in a venue near you.
Siegal switches between guitars, and resorts to slide playing when the mood takes him.  Meanwhile Mathus variously deploys mandolin, harp, and what I suspect he’d describe as his own “raggedy old piece of shit” guitar.  Together they go in search of the right arrangements to do justice to some great songs.
They’re also a delightfully irreverent pair, with between songs patter that latches onto the ridiculous, or summarises the material in down to earth fashion.  So introducing Jimmy Rogers’ 1950 blues ‘Ludella’, Mathus declares that it’s so swampy “you’re gonna need a tetanus shot after this one!”
Oh yeah, and they can sing some too.  On ‘Too Much Water’ we get some great country-ish harmonies, and guitar that twangs so much it verges on bum notes – in the manner of Captain Beefheart “looking for every bum note I can find”.
Ian Siegal - aka Overseas
The set may not seem as spontaneous as on their debut tour together back in 2014, but on the other hand they’re ready to deliver a great set piece such as the medley of Siegal’s ‘I Am The Train’, ‘Folsom Prison Blues’, and Junior Parker’s ‘Mystery Train’ (made famous by Elvis), on which they exhibit a masterful interweaving of guitars and use of dynamics, building the atmosphere up and bringing it down.
Needless to say, the arch vocal mimic Ian Siegal captures the essence of Johnny Cash on the ‘Folsom Prison’ section.  And he goes on to deliver the most Howlin’ Wolf of Howlin’ Wolf vocals on ‘Dirt Road Blues’ (aka, I think, ‘Ain’t Goin’ Down That Dirt Road’, which shares plenty DNA with ‘Smokestack Lightning’), as well as an impassioned performance on the gospel outing ‘I’ll Fly Away’.
Along the way Mathus chips in some ear-catching mandolin solos, and adds atmospherics to ‘Gallo del Cielo’, and there’s the inevitable singalong on ‘Mary Don’t You Weep’, while the audience are also swept into the melancholy of Stephen Foster’s ‘Hard Times Come Again No More’.

It’s rootsy music that explores the evolution of blues, country, and balladeering tales, delivered with wit and feeling, and I hope I get to hear them do it again - without contributions from ‘Silence Thieves’ in the audience.

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