Lucid Culture

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CD Review: Matt Keating – Summer Tonight

Nashville gothic from one of the world’s foremost under-the-radar rockers. Typical NYC story: big in Europe, gets rave reviews (usually something akin to “if Elvis Costello still rocked, he’d be Matt Keating“) but in the US he’s still a cult artist with a small if devoted fan base. This album should change that. Well-conceived, well-executed and particularly well-timed, this could be the stealth weapon that puts him all over NPR and gets some big Hollywood movie placements. It’s a hard turn right into Americana, done with good taste and a genuine appreciation for Carter Family meets the Velvet Underground but there’s way more A.P. and Mother Maybelle in here than there is Lou and crew. Crisp fingerstyle acoustic guitar, banjo, upright bass, pedal steel and harmonica serve as the instrumentation. Aptly titled, it’s an album of nocturnes, the perfect backdrop to a murder conspiracy worked out at dusk in midsummer over half-warm bloody marys on a picnic table just off the highway somewhere on the way to Milledgeville.

Curiously, while menace has been Keating’s stock in trade throughout his career, there’s less of it here than on his other albums. The album’s opening track, Who Knew, and then its title track, both feature Keating’s wife, the terrifically talented Emily Spray (who wrote Union Square for Laura Cantrell). Her honeyed, rockabilly-inflected vocals add warmth and depth to the surprisingly upbeat feel of these songs. Trouble returns in a hurry, though, with Waiting for Memories, an achingly bitter midtempo hit that longs for amnesia – or anything that will bring it on – to erase the pain of the past. The album’s high point, No Further South is arguably the best 9/11 eulogy written by any songwriter up to this point. Over a haunting, minor key acoustic guitar melody, Keating perfectly evokes the dread and the surreal feel of the days after the towers were detonated: “Wrote your name in the ashes on that uptown bus/In my nose and my lashes, God have mercy on us.”

Though replete with fire-and-brimstone Biblical imagery, the rest of the album is surprisingly upbeat and hopeful: Keating seems to have made an uneasy truce with the demons which rear their heads throughout his back catalog. The gorgeously rustic Down There, the straight-ahead country ballad Wish I Was Gold (which sounds like a Dolly Parton classic from 1970) and the resigned, contemplative Lord Jesus could all be Sirius radio hits in on their Americana, country and AAA channels (and would all have been big AM hits if this was 1976  – and that’s a compliment). There’s also a bonus cut featuring a duet with Patty Griffin which is the best thing she’s done in years. Highly recommended for fans of Americana-inflected songwriters like Ron Sexsmith and Rhett Miller as wellas fans of potent lyricists like Graham Parker, Richard Thompson and the aforementioned Mr. Costello. And the Carter Family and maybe even the Velvets. Albums are available in stores, at shows and online. For those who might fear that Keating might have gone soft with this one, fear not: his next album will be a rock record and if the tracks he’s played live are any indication, it’ll be as dark as anything else he’s done.

April 29, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment