(Big Legal Mess)
4 out of 5 stars
At 57, singer/songwriter Jim Mize is in no hurry to become a star. He waited until his early 40s to release his 2000 debut and this self-titled disc is only his third. But what he lacks in quantity he makes up with quality. These nine songs that clock in at just under 35 minutes lay down a hypnotic, swampy, Memphis mid-tempo groove over poignant lyrics, many about the darker side of love, sung in a scuzzy growl somewhere between John Prine, Bruce Springsteen and Heart of a Saturday Night era Tom Waits.
In Mize’s dim world, romance is like falling down a rabbit hole and if anyone is looking for him, all they have to do is “follow the blood trail to my heart.” In “Empty Rooms” he describes in detail what is left of the home that is empty after his wife leaves over skeletal, ghostly guitar. A touching duet with Kate Taylor on “This Moment with You” plows Lucinda Williams musical soil but even with its dour voices, is a relatively positive and sweet love song.
The tunes go down easy, especially on the relaxed edge of “Eminence Kentucky” that sounds like a Harvest Moon outtake. Mize can rock out too, calling in Big Legal Mess label mate John Paul Keith to add Tom Verlaine inspired slicing solos, to the desperate “Need Me Some Jesus,” a track that fades out just as Keith is getting warmed up. There are echoes of Creedence and the Jayhawks in Mize’s approach and Fat Possum co-owner Bruce Watson’s sympathetic production. Similar to the work of those bands, Mize never extends anything past its logical conclusion. Like the finest and most durable albums, it leaves us wanting more and pushing replay to hear what we might have missed or just to enjoy the music of a weathered, fully developed artist whose backwoods muse is in full bloom.