With its rousing opening, excellent guitar picking that leads into the compelling lines: “My heart is a ghost town…” Texas-based Matthew McNeal’s gritty poetic voice hooks the listener as quickly as a magnet attracts metal. Then boom…a dynamic drum beat lassos your ears and drags you in at top speed.
McNeal continues to sing in his disciplined style and the rock guitars tread cautiously upon country tradition but they never violate its air space. This song has so many colorful musical strokes running through it – from maniacal drumming to steady thick time signatures -- the song is a trip. All the while, McNeal walks through its minefield singing…
There's a hint of early James Gang style vocalizing and guitars that embellish the beauty of “Imaginary Friend,” while “Losing Hand,” has a cool recollection of Doug Gray from the Marshall Tucker Band. Two slow tunes with impeccable musicianship and penetrating melodies. The arrangements are not the standard country-folk style and the secret to many of these attractive songs aside from McNeal’s wonderful vocals – is the unorthodox arrangements.
It’s dramatic, it’s ambitious and it embodies brilliant flourishes. Well-thought out and executed the album surprisingly becomes one that has tunes that leave you wanting more.
“Wash My Wounds,” sounds like brittle notes grudgingly on the guitar, splashes of drum beats, clean acoustic guitars that ignite subliminally. McNeal’s voice straddles the lyric with a raw country sound whisked into spiritual splendor. This is like a modern day “The Weight,” by The Band. My problem with it? It’s over before I could sink my teeth into it. But, maybe less is more.
“Bigger Things To See,” has strains of a piano playing off somewhere in the distance of a big echoing hall. McNeal’s voice inhabits the song -- emotionally saturated. It's simplistic and ambitious all at once. McNeal definitely possesses his own distinct style with this material. This song reminds me of an obscure (in America anyway) singer-songwriter who had hits covered by The Who’s Roger Daltry on many of his solo albums. I am speaking of Phillip Goodhand-Tait who recorded many albums, wrote tons of brilliant songs and sang in a similar tone. Goodhand-Tait wrote “Ocean’s Away,” and that was covered by Daltry. One of the other songs Phillip Goodhand-Tait sang that reminds me of McNeal is “Warm Summer Rain.” McNeal is definitely in good company and that’s my point.
Now sounding a little like a cross between Marc Cohn (“Walking In Memphis”) and Greg Trooper (“I Can’t Search For You Anymore”) – McNeal hits the musical nail on the head with “Lost and Found.” A powerful ballad with excellent musicianship – subtle, clean and memorable.
“The Wind,” is one of the most beautiful songs I have heard this year. Poignant, with melodic piano and expressive vocals – McNeal shines as he sings the words with sincerity and power. One-minute fifty five seconds into the song and an optimistically good and surprising in unison handclap begins and the band slowly falls into place with fascinating understated drama. The song never gets bombastic yet, the song is chiseled to perfection as it reaches a stirring coda. A truly inspired song.
“Mother” starts off with a different kind of hand claps and with a steady grinding lead guitar that strums into a standard rock assault. McNeal has an excellent rock vocal – sultry, authoritative, gritty and assuring. This is already on repeat on my system. This tune is startling good -- like a raccoon caught in the lights of a speeding car. For my ears – this song confirms it's worth the price of the album. I can hear Roger Daltry begging to cover this song. It’s like the difference between eating M&M’s and Godiva Chocolate. This is the Godiva.
“Just For Me,” changes the pace and features a warm pedal steel guitar. A complete turnaround from previous songs. A polished ballad showcasing McNeal’s ability to sing slower, maintain his confidence with more emotion than the other tunes.
The closing song is another rocker: “Little Star of Texas,” the guitars are back to gnaw away in a cool ZZ Top / Fabulous Thunderbirds nature. Topped off with a Carl Perkins-Kim Wilson-Doug Gray type vocal that bubbles with hot licks both on guitars and keyboards on the studio track. On the album version, the track is generously sprinkled with hand claps and driving drums. Though it’s a little retro in approach -- this music never goes out of style. Robert Gordon will probably want this one. Below is a spare live version that is quite good:
On a hot summer day with a few chilled margaritas’ – this collection of “Compadre” songs will go down easily and refresh you.
The album was produced and engineered at Redwood Studios in Denton, Texas by Grammy Award-winner McKenzie Smith with Joey McClellan. Additionally, all tracks were mixed by McKenzie Smith.
Musicians: Matthew McNeal: guitar and bass / lead vocals. Drums / percussion by Andre Black. Piano, Organ & Rhodes by Jesse Chandler with Pedal Steel Guitar by Eric Swanson.
I did not have a hard copy of the CD packaging – the album is scheduled for release June 30, 2015.
Photography: No single credit located. Photo picked up from previous Matthew McNeal sites.
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this review / commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of No Depression. All photography is owned by the respective photographers and is their copyrighted image; credited where photographer’s name was known & being used here solely as reference and will be removed on request. YouTube images are standard YouTube license.
John Apice / No Depression / June 2015