IT’S QUITE A JOB keeping up with Ian Siegal these days. His day job is going fine – he’s a popular presence on the European scene with awards to prove it. But there’s also the restless Siegal, roaming the planet – well, Mississippi mainly – in search of similar souls with whom he can strike a spontaneous spark.
His new best friend is Jimbo Mathus, whose songs roam the breadth of American roots. He’s the founder of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, who Siegal met at the al fresco Picnic Sessions with various North Mississippi Allstars and Alvin Youngblood Hart. In 2014 they teamed up for an acoustic European tour, and this one-night romp through their shared musical passions in Holland is the souvenir.
They make a swashbuckling duo with a droll line in repartee – Siegal on guitar and Mathus on banjo, mandolin and harmonica. Their matching gravelly voices produce some delightful duets, although they can also get wilfully ragged, particularly when they get stuck into traditional songs like Jesse James, Mary Don’t You Weep, Stack O’ Lee and I’ll Fly Away.
There are a couple of songs from The Picnic Sessions – Townes Van Zandt’s Heavenly Houseboat Blues for one – that have grown in stature. However, the real revelation is the quality of Mathus’ songs, especially In The Garden, with its biblical warning of temptation; the deceptively sweet Tallahatchie, an ode to drowning; and the evocative Milltown, all of which have shades of Steve Earle coming from a different kitchen.