I started hearing Matthew E. White as the Beck of Sea Change if Mr Hansen was channelling Astral Weeks instead of Pink Moon and picking up ideas from Guy Clark and Graham Nash solo albums instead of stealing wholesale from Serge Gainsbourg. And then I noticed that big capital E in the middle of the name – there was something that made me think of what a new solo album from E (Mark Everett) of Eels might sound like.
The other touchstone – instantly – was Owen Ashworth (Casiotone For The Painfully Alone/Advance Base). But White has a 1970s white-boy gospel-funk feel that is beautifully subdued and effortless. This is hushed but it isn’t lo-fi. It isn’t even (really) low-key.
It’s warm and inviting – and often beautiful. You see Big Inner is the debut album from Matthew E. White and his Spacebomb band/label/collective/stable. And this band, you get the feeling (from their feel) are musical alchemists; they’ve spun gold across these seven lived-in tracks. They’ve also made an album – not just a set of tunes.
There are horns, strings and players that have studied up on all the best J.J. Cale, The Band, Lambchop understatement. These are musicians that know how to burn but prefer to simmer so as not to spoil.
Matthew E. White has built up his skills as a producer, player, arranger, writer and singer – possibly in something approaching that order – and now it all comes together; it’s unleashed on the sort of near-enough-to-perfect/must-play-it-over-and-over-and-over-again debut album that could have you thinking of Shuggie Otis, Kurt Vile, Kurt Wagner, Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens and Bill Callahan.
Yes, yes, I know I’ve mentioned far too many names…
But all of these comparisons are meant as compliments. And all of them are names that did actually pop into my head the very first time I heard this album.
Unusually, for an album released in 2012 – and 2013 in some parts of the world – it feels lived in and lovely for that; you could have told me this guy was a contemporary of Karen Dalton and I might just have believed it.
I also love the gospel earthy rootsy feel within the country-funk and folk. I’m as secular as they come – but I’m a sucker for some good-time gospel feel and religious iconography in lyrics.
I believe everything this guy is singing. Even if I don’t believe in (all of) it.
I think I’ve found one of the best albums I’ll hear across 2013. And I’m very happy about that – and very happy every time I listen to this record. Happier still knowing already I’ll be listening to it long after 2013 turns into the New Year and then on from there…