North Carolina’s Matt Heckler has released his new earthy sophomore collection Blood, Water, Coal digitally as well as on compact disc via Anti-Corporate Music this past Friday, February 19th. Vinylphiles don’t fret, as all indications are that the vinyl pressing will follow shortly. Blood, Water, Coal is the follow-up to 2019’s flawless After the Flood, and this new set of songs is a masterful and natural compliment to it’s predecessor,
I first heard and saw Heckler supporting Lost Dog Street Band a few years back. During his set I found myself captivated by this lean, ball cap adorned, bearded fellow armed with a violin, banjo and occasional guitar. Not surprisingly, watching him play is fascinating. He often hesitated between songs, as if unsure which of his instruments would best augment the tale he was about to tell next. His decision this time, might not be the same next time, or even the next. That impressed me a lot. That’s a craftsman honing sincerity and honesty into a song; ingraining himself within his art and trusting themselves to the whims of the songs. You can’t make that up or fake it. It’s real.
Blood, Water, Coal, like its predecessor, captures that realness. The album’s purposeful flow seems appropriate, but never rushed. Though Lost Dog Street Band Jeff Loops contributes upright bass and some backing vocals, this is a solitary album. Made up of ballads, (“My Caroline”, “Roses and Whiskey”), a pair of waltzes (“Widow Mtn.Waltz” and “Jackalope Waltz”), as well as pub worthy numbers (“Katy Dear”and “St. Tomas”), and coal-black darkness (“Left For Dead”). It’s that darkness that pervades as Heckler sings of sorrow, separation and occasionally, mercy (“Forgive Me Mother”). Throughout it all, Heckler, seemingly with ease, meticulously combines a rich blend of Irish, Romanian and Appalachian influences to form his own unique grittier approach to traditional folk/bluegrass format.
What’s appealing here is the rawness. There’s no fancy production tricks: Blood, Water Coal is a high wire act without a net to protect the entertainer or entertained. In fact, it’s best listened to with headphones to genuinely appreciate the nuances. Not those ridiculous ear bud things, but real, comfortable padded, headphones. I’m completely sold on his whole DIY/GemsOnVHS movement. I think it’s one of the best things to happen to roots music in a long, long time. A lot of what we now refer to as Americana at times seems complacent and too analogous to me. Artists like Heckler, Lost Dog Street Band, Mike Oberst/The Tiller are the true roots artists to me.
Look, Heckler is a tough cookie to pigeonhole into any one genre, but I think you’re going to like this one. Especially if you like the early folk/Appalachian style tunes. This is about as real as it’s going to get, and it’s definitely an album that will move your mind into another time and space. With two solid solo releases as well as the beautifully crafted Magnolia Sessions under his belt, Heckler has made his mark. https://www.mattheckler.com