REVIEW: Matt Wilson and His Orchestra’s “When I Was a Writer” Follows His Creative Whims


When the late ‘80s music world was dominated by over the top Glam-based Hair Metal bands and polished to a blinding shine pop music, Matt Wilson’s group Trip Shakespeare managed to churn out album after album of original, engaging alt rock long before the term was hijacked by record label marketing departments. Ignoring fads and musical trends, he piloted the band to a devoted cult following desperate for an original sound. Clearly, he’s not given up on trusting his instincts and following his creative whims. His latest project, When I Was a Writer (Pravda Records), marks Wilson’s return to songwriting after years away and finds him fronting a four piece that includes banjo and harp throughout.

Far from being gimmicky additions, the harp and banjo blend sublimely with Wilson’s emotive vocals across 10 mostly earnest, sometimes slyly funny tracks. The banjo and harp are often joined by bass, piano and acoustic guitar. Though the one downside to the limited sound of the harp is that there is a tendency for some of the songs to bleed into others with little distinction. But that constant, high pitched twang from the harp does offers opportunities to surprise, like on “Petty Thief,” a surprisingly funny track about the downsides to dating a thief.

Elsewhere, like on the beautiful “Only Just a Boy,” Wilson and band are able to seamlessly shift into a more solemn mode. “Decent Guy” is another standout track, one of the most accessible songs on the record. The oldest song here, “I Can’t Return,” written in 2015 and the genesis of this album is probably the record’s brightest moment – musically, it’s the most diverse and with beautiful harmonies, sold backing vocals it’s the closest thing to a straight up pop song.

It’s too early to see if this record marks a one-off experiment for Wilson or a full-fledged band with more albums to come. Regardless, it’s an impressive record.


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