Ironing Board Sam, Super Spirit (Big Legal Mess)

The iconoclastic punks of Big Legal Mess music and producer/guitarist/blues mystic Jimbo Mathus are great music people to bring out the goods in the mysterious piano man Ironing Board Sam.

These folks are great at either taking an artist’s music and putting it in a whole new context or amping it up way past 11. Sam has never had a problem with his intensity, creativity, or soul, but Mathus and producer Bruce Watson hone it and update it. There is a good mix of 1990s rock ‘n’ roll and 1970s slow-burn rhythm and blues. Some numbers here, such as “The Thrill Hunt,” gradually stretch the tension like a rubber band before letting it release slowly or, like the philosophical spoken word statement title track, never let it go at all. Those songs give an ominous and eerie texture to this record. Sam’s keyboard work, while present, is toned down.

There are fewer solos and fewer pianos in the arrangements. However, the record puts the focus on Sam’s voice, which has the grit of a man who has earned every blues he thinks and says.

The band is loose enough to roll with Sam’s feel but tight enough to keep everything together. The sound here is modern and slightly adventurous for a blues record. However, when highlighting a man who once performed in a 1500-gallon water tank at Jazz Fest and whose hot air balloon concert was only canceled by bad weather, it is the next step in this inventive musician’s career.