William Matheny – That Grand Old Feeling
This West Virginia singer-songwriter who has had critical acclaim dabbles in 70s heartland rock n’ roll & William Matheny has said that he’s spent time exploring rock clubs of all kinds, dive bars, run-down motels, roadside haunts, decaying theaters, putrid hotels, dismal truck stops & other “luxurious” places a Tom Waits would cherish. Places that are usually open past 2 a.m. William is trying to figure out what kind of personalities & entertainment haunt these places. It’s an interesting concept to study.
Produced by Bud Carroll (guitar/pedal steel/vocals/percussion) the 9-cut That Grand Old Feeling (Drops Aug 4– Thirty Tigers/Hickman Holler Records) was recorded in WV & includes a folded lyric sheet. The Matheny (vocals/guitar) musical study is a narrative — equal parts curious & compassionate. The wordplay is clever & its rootsy music is woven with Appalachian storytelling style with a pinch of the underbelly of the American road trip.
For some, the music may be too melodic for the ears to deal with such a lyrical substratum of society. Yet, the tales are honest, well-crafted & not offensive. Matheny’s voice is also not gritty, grizzled, or worn so believing his stories may be stretch.
However, Jackson Browne has done the same thing with his marvelous passages through short-story-type lyrics. So, while William possesses more of an Emit Rhodes vocal expressionism he does embody the necessary words to describe the pseudo-country life that lives in a bottle of bourbon & shuffles through sawdust floors. To a degree, he may even embrace the tarnished role of a confessional vocalist.
The guitars bristle on “Christian Name,” & the steadiness of the tight music is played with skill. Mr. Matheny knows his subject. The ornamentation is hard luck, struggles, too many lost horse races & stale beer but it’s all showcased with a bright arrangement & there’s a perfection to the form. Yes, Tom Waits would be a little more believable & Chuck E. Weiss may have lived the life but William as a narrator of this bracingly smart music with muscular intensity makes it easier on unaccustomed ears.
The gravy on this meal has a tang to it & it should. Nothing here comes off as fragile or sweet. Good lyrics set to engaging music. William Matheny may not be Jon Dee Graham or Buddy Miller but he’s certainly not Barry Manilow or Josh Groban. The music has moments when it sears (“Stranger’s Voice”).
Highlights – “Late Blooming Flower,” “Ever Way To Lose,” “Bird of Youth,” “Grand Old Feeling,” Heartless People,” “Stranger’s Voice” & “Christian Name.”
Musicians – Adam L. Meisterhans (guitar), Clint Sutton (drums/percussion), Jeremy Batten (piano/organ), John R. Miller (bass/vocals) & J. Tom Hnatow (pedal steel guitar).
Color photo courtesy of Emma Delevante. The 41-minute CD @ Amazon & Bandcamp + http://williammatheny.com/music