EJ Mathews brings authentic backwoods blues to Boulevard Music
Somewhere during the ’80s, the blues ducked into a sports bar to refresh its palate and got stuck. Slick, rocking guitar solos resonated with new generations of listeners, but distanced blues from the spectral chills and working-class tales of John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Howlin’ Wolf, until the ’90s resurgence of Mississippi hill country blues restored the genre’s grit as it entered the 21st century.
Ex-trucker EJ Mathews, a rural native of Cass County (also home of Don Henley) in northeastern Texas, namechecks Hopkins and Wolf as influences; like Hopkins, he pulls notes from acoustic guitar, and his big, rough voice commands attention like the Wolf’s, albeit without the otherworldly finesse of those icons. Growing up near the Louisiana border, the fortysomething Mathews was inspired by his grandfather, a blues musician who played slide guitar with a knife, and he takes that kind of unpretentious back-porch approach to his own rough country blues.
His 2015 EP “Welcome to the Backwoods” engagingly blends blues boogie with Hank Sr.-style country storytelling about “The Piney Woods,” “Texas Louisiana Line,” and finding police at his door at “6 in the Morning.” Two years later Living Blues Magazine singled out Mathews as a “breakout” artist, shortly before he released “King of the Barnyard,” a full-band album whose electric guitar suggests the charge of “Sippin’ White Lightnin’” and the honky-tonking “When I Rise.”
Saturday’s show at Boulevard Music in Culver City is a rare excursion westward from Dallas, where Mathews now lives, and it remains to be seen how Angelenos will respond to his unapologetic celebrations of corn shucking, pea picking, rooster crowing, and catching dinner down at the fishing hole.
As he acknowledges on “Boogie in the Backwoods,” “Some of you folks ain’t gonna understand/ Man, it’s a Southern thing.”
— Bliss Bowen
EJ Mathews Band plays Boulevard Music (4316 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City) from 8 to 10 p.m. Saturday, June 29. Tickets are $15. Call (310) 398-2583 or visit boulevardmusic.com.