We’ve written about several acts who might be considered a new wave of young country bucks (Sturgill Simpson, Cale Tyson, Daniel Romano, Barna Howard etc.). They sidestep the current Nashville trends such as Bro’ Country and EDM and instead look back to classic country music, not the hillbilly type but the golden years of the fifties and sixties, their heroes George Jones, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Glen Campbell and John Hartford, artists who were mavericks but still able to turn in a hit song.
Well it’s time to add Canadian Matt Patershuk to this list. I Was So Fond Of You, his second album, is a breath of fresh air, an inhalation of healthy banjo, fiddle, pedal steel and guitars, all set to a fine shuffle from the excellent rhythm section and topped with his sometimes honeyed, sometimes gravelly vocals. Recorded at producer Steve Dawson’s Nashville studio, the band, Mike Bub, bass, Gary Craig, drums, Fats Kaplin, fiddle, banjo, accordion and guitar along with Dawson on guitar and pedal steel, sat down together and played live with no overdubs. The cherry on the cake here is the addition of Ana Egge on harmony vocals, added later but knitted right into the songs.
The opening song, Back Against The Wall is a gritty slice of Southern slither with mean slide guitar and rasping fiddle. It’s a great opener but hardly indicative of what is to follow. Prettiest Ones introduces Egge’s voice, a perfect foil for Patershuk’s wearied tones on a gentle song that tiptoes along sprinkled with mandolin and sweet pedal steel. She remains on board for the mild Western swing of Smoke A Little Cigarette, Kaplin here superb on fiddle and Patershuk capturing the laconic songspeak of Bob Wills perfectly, a trick he repeats on the upbeat Burnin’ The Candles At Both Ends. Pepe The Cat Murdering Dog, an absurdist tale of sorts finds the band all jaunty and hitting a bluegrass stride while Mean Coyotes heads into Tex-Mex country on a Willie Nelson like ticket. Here Patershuk just hits all the right buttons, the harmonies with Egge beautiful, the band just on the right side of closing time at a cantina, reedy accordion setting the scene on a mournful song that paints a rancher burying a pony, a victim of those coyotes, as he relates this to his own life.
There’s more equine content on Tennessee Walker, an epitaph to a beloved steed that recalls Doc Watson as imagined by Steve Earle and Earle comes to mind again on the revenge ballad of Harviestown. Here a “yellow bellied drunk man killed my darling girl” and the singer vows to go down to Harviestown where “I’ll use my two bare hands, I won’t need a gun.” It’s a great song, a fine addition to the old murder ballad tradition but it gains some extra weight when one realises that Patershuk is here dissembling a tragic moment of his own. His sister, Clare, was killed by a drunk driver in 2013 and he dedicates the album to her memory and in particular he describes his memory of this on the title song, a truly affecting piece which is given a respectful reading from the band, a slow waltz with Egge echoing his plaintive vocals. It’s tearstained indeed and sad to think that the song grew from a tragedy but ultimately (and here one does feel somewhat helpless, like a mourner not knowing what to say at a funeral) it’s a beautiful song and hopefully gives some comfort for those who knew her. Patershuk can certainly wring the emotions and he does so expertly on Little Guitar, a song that stands tall in the grand tradition of the likes of Kris Kristofferson and Jon Prine. Here he inhabits a veteran of world war II, bruised and battered, his brother killed in the war, blood flowing through his flaxen hair. He finds solace in his second hand guitar singing, “you can’t make a fist when you’re playing guitar.” It’s a monumental song delivered with grace by the players and well worth the price of admission on its own. A wonderful album.