Our Verdict: 5/5
Release date: May 13th 2014
Find it at: Matt Woods’ official site
“Perfectly balanced moments of tone and texture that build to make a sum much greater than than the album’s parts…If there’s a finer example of a musician bleeding on to record, we’ve yet to hear it.”
Without wishing to sound too much like a college professor, postmodern cultural theory has it that we are so far removed from authentic experience these days, that our lives have broken down into a series of increasingly meaningless signs and signifiers that relate – only in some distant way – to a reality that no longer exists.
Heavy, right? Particularly now that ‘authenticity’ and ‘reality’ are such fluid concepts. What the hell does ‘real’ mean anymore anyway?
It’s possible to argue – especially outside of the United States where listeners are one step removed again – that country and country-inflected music, Americana if you will, has been subject to this kind of breakdown of meaning more than most. Country music is at once instantly recognisable in its sound, and yet seems to be easily overlooked or mocked by many for an old-fashioned philosophy; a way of living and being and experiencing the world that seems outdated or irrelevant.
It seems entirely appropriate, then, that the word ‘real’ crops up all over the place when it comes to this Tennessee troubadour.
The first slab of concrete reality that hits you when listening to With Love From Brushy Mountain, is the indisputable warmth of its sound. There’s a fullness – a depth – to this record; something that seems increasingly rare in recording today. It doesn’t take too much of a stretch of the imagination to picture Woods cutting this album directly to acetate before shipping it off for pressing and distribution. Old fashioned? Perhaps. But it would certainly be tangible; real; present.
It’s perfect, too, that opening track ‘Ain’t No Living’ seems to be suggesting that it’s nigh on impossible to earn a crust writing, recording and touring roots music in this way today; and yet it also explicitly acknowledges that it’s the only thing that Woods knows how, or wants, to do. “It ain’t no living, it’s my life.” It’s nigh on impossible then, but here he is doing it anyway. Postmodern? Following his dream? Plain ol’ hardheadedness? We’ll let you decide.
Maybe it’s why he’s “…drinking to forget how drunk I got last night…” in ‘Drinking To Forget’. A traditional country-inflected lament for sure, but one somehow brought kicking and screaming into the present with the oh-so-Generation-X acknowledgement that “…we got the rest of our lives to wonder whether how we’re living right now is right.” For the moment it’s naught but another whisky, and alcohol-induced oblivion, on the horizon.
But for all this heart, …Brushy Mountain comes with a healthy and acerbic dose of humour, too. Take the verse of the blustery ‘West Texas Wind’ for example. “Well the man on the record was a son of a bitch,” opines Woods, “to make me believe in this rambling shit.” Ironic then that the brilliance of Woods’ music may well inspire some other lonesome buck to do just the same.
And what brilliance there is in the music. There’s nothing brazen or flashy about the instrumentation or arrangements here, but there is quality by the bucket-load. Every note, every melody, serves nothing but the song that it’s a part of. Listen to the rollicking banjo and piano in the up-tempo honky-tonk of ‘Snack Bar Mary and the Ten Pin Priest’, or the gritty rock-tinged guitar in ‘Tiny Anchors’ or the title track. They’re all perfectly balanced moments of tone and texture that build to make a sum much greater than than the album’s parts. Even the one moment of stand-alone instrumetal mastery – a soaring electric guitar solo in the latter part of closing track ‘Liberty Bell’ – feels like an integral sonic necessity, rather than an egocentric indulgence.
‘Deadman’s Blues’ is something of a centrepiece for the LP. As the first single released late last year, it’s an astounding showcase for the delights that …Brushy Mountain has to offer. All strummed guitar and ghostly lap steel in it’s opening bars, it builds piece by piece, layer by layer, until a stunning and dynamic breakdown when all instrumentation drops away, and Woods fires his heart out through his chest, voice barely able to contain the strength of feeling: “…fumbling ’round without a thing to loose, like I don’t want it all, hell I don’t want it all!” If there’s a finer example of a musician bleeding on to record, we’ve yet to hear it.
All of which makes it even more dumbfounding that Woods seems to be all but unknown outside of select circles of musicians, and already dedicated, die-hard converts to his cause. How could an artist of such skill, such depth, such integrity and intent – an artist who seems so REAL – remain so low key?
Well, you’ve got us beat; it’s a mystery. “I write what is ready to come out and try to be as honest as I can about it,” says Woods of his songs. “A lot of my songs are very much based in classic Country music while others are grounded in straight forward and greasy rock’n’roll.” Indeed, and even in this postmodern world, they seem more authentic – more relevant – than ever.
Find out more about Matt Woods by visiting his official website.
You can watch the offical video for album track, ‘Deadman’s Blues’, below: