One of my favourite songs is Steve Earle’s – Fort Worth Blues. Written as a tribute to Earle’s hero and friend – the late, great Townes Van Zandt, the song just radiates loss and loneliness. Townes himself was well known for writing songs of despair and once said…”aloneness is a state of being, whereas loneliness is a state of feeling. It’s like the difference between being broke and being poor.”
Back in February I received an email from another Dallas/Fort Worth Texan – Matthew McNeal, with a link to one of his songs, a song so achingly beautiful I contacted him for an interview (read it HERE). “Lost and Found” is one of those songs that if you have your iPod on shuffle and it comes on, the whole room slowly stops talking and someone eventually asks: “who is this?”
Matthew followed that up with “Alonely“, a song that’s quite a bit more upbeat despite the title, but as Van Zandt’s quote laments, if you’re just broke, at least there might be some hope. Now, I’ve only been to Texas once, and that was San Antonio (where Earle grew up) for a few days, but It leaves me wondering: what is it with loneliness, despair and Fort Worth?
Since then we’ve featured a number of tracks from Compadre, his upcoming release recorded with help from Grammy award-winning McKenzie Smith (Midlake/Sarah Jaffe/St. Vincent) and Joey McClellan (Midlake/Israel Nash/The Fieros). Now we’re also lucky to have Matthew walk us through each song – track by track. If you miss liner notes, this is for you because he’s not just a singer-songwriter, he’s a storyteller, the musical equivalent to novelists like Ron Rash or Russell Banks.
“This is a record for the over-thinkers, the people that get in their own heads, the people that struggle with real issues that no one else sings about. From that lonesome feeling you get in a room full of people to divorce to learning how to love, this record should really hit home- not only with my generation, but with anyone with ears willing to listen.”
Whatever you call his music – country, folk, alt-country, Americana, Matthew gives off an air of authenticity and humbleness that seems to be missing in mainstream country. I’d put him on the same horse as a Chris Stapleton and say, Sturgill Simpson. Dammit, it’s only a matter of time before one of these artists breaks through the din of what passes for popular country music these days and becomes a superstar.
We’ll certainly try to do our part by telling y’all to give a listen to Compadre when it comes out June 30. You can pre-order HERE. (Oh, and shout out to drummer Andre Black!)
‘Alonely’ ended up being the perfect lead track for the album. It really sets the tone of hope in the midst of loneliness and doubt, which is recurring topic throughout ‘Compadre’. I wanted the song to show the journey from being down-and-out to realizing that things were fine all along, it was just a matter of looking at things in a different way.
‘Imaginary Friend’ was probably my favorite song to write. I’ve always loved the idea of personifying a feeling. Self-doubt is something that I struggle with, so I wrote the song as a letter to an imaginary friend (i.e. the embodiment of my own self-doubt) telling him that I won’t be victim any longer.
A Losing Hand:
This was the first song written for the album. Though all of the other songs on ‘Compadre’ grew and matured through rehearsals and recording, ‘A Losing Hand’ is the exact same as it was the day it was written. It’s my own little tale of love gone awry. It’s the most dynamic song on the album, constantly building until the galloping drums finally hit. The climax of the song has my favorite lyrics from the album:
‘It’s a shame, my dear, the way the cards were dealt
Not a diamond on the table to make it alright
Two hearts laid down, Two spades to bury them
I’ll be playing at a club out of town tonight’
Wash My Wounds:
‘Wash My Wounds’ was the first song we tracked at Redwood Studios. I remember on the first day of tracking, our good friend and producer Joey McClellan asked if that song would be the single. It’s got such an interesting groove to it and that’s really what we want. My drummer Andre and I always want to push the limits of traditional Americana/roots music and see what we can get away with and luckily for us, people really seem to dig this tune.
Bigger Things To See:
The track was written as an honest, mature love song. So many songs about love disregard the struggles of the past and the hurdles some people have to jump in order to let themselves open to another person, so I wanted ‘Bigger Things To See’ to portray that in a genuine way.
Lost and Found:
‘Lost and Found’ was the first single off of the album. The song completely changed within the first hour of tracking as McKenzie (Smith), Joey (McClellan), Andre, and I all began trying out ideas to make the song come to life. From the day we started working on the song in the studio, I knew that ‘Lost and Found’ was going to be something really special.
I could talk about this song for days. As much as I’d love to dive into the concept behind the song, I have to tell the story about it coming to life in the studio. Midlake’s Jesse Chandler joined us on the album for piano, rhodes, and organ. Jesse listened to this song one time all the way through then walked to the piano and tracked the song in one take. It was like watching a master at work. There’s one specific part in the song where Jesse really brings the song home and I remember looking over at Andre while we were listening in the control room and we both had tears in our eyes. I’ll never forget that.
‘Mother’ speaks on the topic of divorce. There’s a gospel-esque tone to the song and that’s very intentional- I wanted to show hope through a rather dismal situation. The song goes from speaking about past experiences to speaking about how you can learn from those negative experiences and be stronger because of them.
Just For Me:
Israel Nash’s Eric Swanson joined us in the studio for pedal steel and to me, he really transformed this song. I wanted this personal love song to be raw, honest, and simple. Eric took those ideas and really filled in the gaps within this song.
Little Star of Texas:
‘Little Star of Texas’ is musically an ode to our live set. We play as a two-piece when we’re out on the road, traveling around the bars and venues playing our own version of Americana. This tune always gets the crowd moving, so what better way to end an album than with a rowdy barn-burner?