Matthew Perryman Jones – Land of the Living

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.

“CanciĆ³n 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.

On Musiclogging and Reviewing

Okay, so obviously I’m back to listening to music more earnestly. [I would argue that this is a beneficial result of not being so damn depressed.] Would you like me to review the stuff I’m listening to? I used to do that back in the week-by-week format, but I found that format rather unwieldy and also quite demanding.

If I review stuff, it’ll be in the form of a weekly or monthly post that reviews whatever I’ve listened to in the last time period. It also won’t be long: I’m thinking 140-character reviews, a la Twitter. [In fact, I might just use Twitter to do it, and use Alex’s Twitter Tools to power doing it. Hmmm.]

This is only relevant for the subset of my audience that gives a rip about what I’m listening to, of course …

Update, 2124: Oh, hell … the longer I thought about it, the more it made sense to just do it. Welcome, @geofsnewmusic.

Andrew Osenga’s Souvenirs and Postcards

One would think that having Andrew Osenga’s Souvenirs and Postcards for almost two months now would mean that I’d written about it by now, but you’d be wrong.

Let me step through this, then, track-by-track. Andy’s written a wonderful, quiet disc, and I hope that my writing will do it a tiny bit of justice.

The disc starts with “I Miss Those Days”, a wonderful lament about missing one’s former life. Andrew did briefly attend Belmont University, but when the record company came calling, he chucked school for the rock-and-roll life, fronting The Normals, perhaps the best “Christian rock” band you’ve never heard. Andy missed out on the typical college experience, and when he went to his Midwestern roots to see his brother [I think] graduate from college, he was hit with nostalgia for the college life, for the time when “just like all the rest, I was looking around for me.”

Is there regret here? Yes, but it’s tinged with the happiness and gratitude that you heard in The Normals’ “The Best I Can” [from Coming to Life, one of the best albums I own]. Andy’s since met the love of his life, gotten married, and bought his little house in Nashville. The closing lines say all that need be said about this case:

but I am happy now,
oh so happy, since I’ve found you,
And I’m quiet now,
yes, quite content, since we’ve been living here,
and I’ve got everything I’ve ever needed,
and half the things I’d ever want.
and I may miss those days,
but if they came back, I would miss you so much more.

“Roses in a Dead Man’s Hand” may be my favorite of the songs on this all-too short [25:52!] disc. The poetic goodness of it all lends me to just quote the entirety of the lyrics and let them speak for themselves, but that always rankles me when I see it on other folks’ Weblogs. As perhaps best fitting for any well-written song that holds to the verse-chorus structure, the bridge is really what gets you there:

can I sing it hard enough that it will finally sink in?
the promise that I’m loved, and the promise I’m forgiven?
what I’m trying hard to say is that I’m wanting to believe in you again.

As my friend Mark Traphagen said in his review of Souvenirs and Postcards, “We know the promises of grace and forgiveness, but sometimes when we look in the miror, they’re hard to believe.” All we need is self to wonder why grace should be denied us, and Jesus to wonder at the power of that grace. We really are “nothing but a promise lying broken at the cross” many a time in our life.

“If I Had Wings…” does really set the mood of the disc well. Mark noted that the disc is very much autumnal, which reflects when it was all written. I’ve wanted to ask Andrew the significance of these lines:

climb an oak tree, and carve a pumpkin,
light a candle for its eyes,
Hello November, I need surrender,
I need to let October die.

The whole song haunts me in a way that makes me want to reach out and give my friend a hug. It’s accessible—Lord knows that we’ve all had these down moments. Unfortunately, none of us have the haunting vocals of Osenga and Steven Delopoulos [formerly of Burlap to Cashmere] to sing the despair of those dark doldrums.

“The Broadway Bartender” is classic Osenga disassociative songwriting. I remember asking about his previous solo project, Photographs, “How much of that is real and how much of it is fiction?” I think his reply went, “It’s all real, and it’s all fictional, but only some of it is biographical.” This is Andy telling a story that you know isn’t about him, but yet you enjoy it anyway. In an amusing story-within-a-story kind of way, you have the protagonist claiming to be fictional. All in all, it’s wonderful songwriting, and the production quality of it lends to the rest of the disc. [That’s Jars of Clay’s Charlie Lowell on accordion, with bgv’s done by Andrew’s brother Rob.]

“The Priest and the Iron Rain” is, apparently, an allusion to Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. [Again, my lack of a solid literary background fails me. I had to have my boy Joe Bassett tell me that.] The repetitive but ever-mutable chorus is always an enjoyable writing device when well-employed, as it is done here. The bridge is especially tough to listen to in light of the current bloody stasis of the Iraqi occupation:

so what’s the glory of dying,
round here, it all just looks like dying,
and my friend, I can’t keep from trying
to believe it isn’t real,
but we all know that it’s real.

“Baby, Don’t Worry” is probably the song that possessed me to buy ten copies of this disc and distribute them to friends. [AO: “I take it that this means you like it?” GM: “Yes, I think so.”] I’ll admit a slight tinge of guilt drove that purchase—it hurts to see a friend down on his luck!—but the folks I wanted to give this to will all have a great understanding. We all remember the broker-than-broke days when Ramen noodles became more friend than food.

this is just like the stories our parents told us,
Babe, you know they’re doing fine,
as long as we’re together we’ve got it all,
the rest will just take a little time.

Andy’s going to make it. I know.

“The Letter” is the last song on the disc, and I can’t help but think that the object has to be something that Andrew himself wrote. I’m almost entirely predisposed to scream “Innocence and Experience!” after Mrs. Richardson kinda hammered the corpus of William Blake into our heads my senior year in high school, and I really do think that the passage of life is wholly at stake here.

and everybody changes,
but there’s a part that always stays,
and I hope the writer of that letter
is still out there somewhere.

I think that we all have to hope that; without that hope for a brighter tomorrow, without a soul that can know joy and sadness, our lives truly aren’t worth living.

Guster’s Lost and Gone Forever

I’m one of those really anal people that wishes that they could document every last little bit of their lives. Why? I think it’s because my memory has started to suck as I’ve gotten older. Anyhow, the main reason I have sites online is for me&emdash;I never know when I’ll want the information, and then I can just look it up on my site.

One might ask why I don’t write such things down. The answer is simple: that never works for me. My organizational methods are best described as chaotic, and conversely, the computer is just a search string. This probably explains why I like things in ordnung with computers [a fact to which my Rumor Forum peeps can attest], even if my truck does look like, well, a nuclear wasteland. [Note: when your favorite band starts making fun of how trashed the back of your truck is during sound check, it’s time to do something about it.]

So anyhow, I typed that long pre-amble to note that I’m now going to start reviewing albums here on GFMorris.com. In some ways, it’s a prelude of things to come. Without further ado … on to Guster’s Lost and Gone Forever.

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