Let me state this up front: I supported Matthew Perryman Jones’s new record, Land of the Living on Kickstarter. As such, I’ve had it ahead of its street date. I was also asked if I would consider writing a review by promotional people associated with Matthew. Also, I really like Matthew and wish that I could spend more time hanging out with him, because he’s a really cool guy. Alas, I do not live in Nashville.
I have loved Jones’s music since I wore out Throwing Punches in the Dark. It’s the standard by which I judge all of his music; whether or not that’s fair, I don’t really know. Matthew is often backed by a standard guitar-bass-drums-keyboard band, so there is sometimes a risk of him sounding like a dozen other artists. However, his voice is fairly distinctive—in a good way—and he carries the day on his records. He’s classically emotional and introspective, which is something I really appreciate because I’m that way myself.
I want to take this one track by track, because that’s how I’ve listened to it. Please note that my rating system starts with two stars as a baseline.
“Stones from the Riverbed” – This is a good little opener for the record. If you’re not familiar with Jones’s records as a whole and have only heard his music in TV or films, this is going to let you know what it is that he does musically: good words, emotion yet understated until he really needs to pound it. Three stars.
“Poisoning the Well” – I simply love the verses’ melody. The production doesn’t get in the way of the vocals, which I think is important for an artist like Matthew. I love the metaphor of the magistrate poisoning the well. It’s not just there for a rhyme. Four stars because I love the melody.
“I Won’t Let You Down Again” – The chorus really lets that oooo vocal tone Matthew gets in his falsetto run free. The whole track lets him express his range. I’ve just never bought into the words on this one. I’m sure there’s a story behind it, but it didn’t do much for me. Three stars because the vocals are great.
“O, Theo” – I love the layering throughout the whole track, especially at the end with the strings and the female BGVs. This is just fun to listen to even if you’re not tuned into it. Three stars.
“Sleeping With a Stranger” – This song sounds like it’s destined to end up on Grey’s Anatomy or some other steamy primetime show: “Kiss my heart awake / we’re so far away / I’m sleeping with a stranger”. Four stars.
“Waking Up the Dead” – This record needed an up-tempo track, and here it is. The choir is a very nice touch. This is a track about personal redemption, and there is spiritual content here without much religiosity to it. If you don’t like that kind of thing, you may not like this track, but I do, so I’m giving it four stars.
“Keep It on the Inside” – A good song about self-censorship and letting things go. Three stars.
“Canción de la Noche” – “How do you love someone so restless and torn?” That’s a great question. This is one of those classic emotional Jones songs. There’s so much lyrical tension, and it’s supported by the melody and the delivery. For my money, this is the best track on the record. Five stars.
“The Angels Were Singing” – This is a very down-tempo track, so much so that it would be understandable if it lost your interest. As with “Waking Up the Dead”, this has spiritual content, but I’d argue that it’s benignly religious. I haven’t seen liner notes, but I’m pretty darn sure that’s Sandra McCracken on BGVs. “Each tear was a chorus / a sacred reprise” gets me. Four stars.
“Land of the Living” – This is a great closing track. “Oh you cannot love in moderation / you’re dancing with a dead man’s bones / lay your soul on the threshing floor” is the best line on the record, both for its content and the soaring delivery. This one gets five stars as well.
Overall, I give this record 4/5 stars, which is a pretty good rating for me. I’m very glad to have supported this record. Thank you, Matthew, for bringing it to my ears.