Matthew McNeal has had a tough couple of years. A series of setbacks including the death of his father just before his 2018 album, ‘Good Luck‘ was released, followed by a house fire, a car accident and identity theft would be enough to bring most of us to our knees. However, instead of turtling, he has simply channeled everything into his music and lyrics, and lucky for us, because that is what makes him so special as an artist.
Along with his longtime friend, co-writer, and drummer Andre Black, he has also been on a journey; shifting from country-tinged singer-songwriter on the excellent debut “Compadre‘ (2015) to soulful pop crooner on his new album ‘Good Grief‘. He gave himself a lot of legroom to move in that direction on ‘Good Luck‘ with tracks like ‘Run‘ and ‘Gotta Get To You’ and ultimately a great songwriter, is a great songwriter, a point corroborated on ‘Good Grief‘. On these nine tracks, McNeal and Black stretch out even farther musically, drawing in all kinds of vibes, from the Muscle Shoals sound to Ben Harper to Ray LaMontagne to Rex Orange County while lyrically McNeal finds a cathartic outlet.
For ‘Good Grief‘ McNeal and Black reassemble a crack band of Eric Swanson (Nathaniel Rateliff, Israel Nash) on pedal steel, Joey McClellan (Elle King, Midlake) on guitar, Aaron McClellan (The Fieros) on bass, and once again hand the reins to Ted Young (Kurt Vile) to provide his luscious, layered production. The album opens with ‘I Think It’s Real‘ a blue-eyed soul charmer with some delicate otherworldly pedal steel from Swanson. From there, McNeal plays his ace early on with the brilliant ‘All for Nothing.‘ You may not hear a more perfect pop song this year and hopefully, with a spin of the karmic wheel, it should blow up on the national pop music radar. (The video was premiered in Rolling Stone this week, read it here).
The middle of the record; ‘Change‘, ‘Somehow (Wild Roses)‘, and ‘Fearlessly‘ all have a moody, warm 70s quality, while ‘Michael’ begins as a laid back soulful ballad only to finish with an early Elton John-esque looseness to it. The restraint the band shows on the groovy ‘Levity‘ is admirable, I kept waiting for everything to detonate but Black was having none of it, maintaining a steady backbeat. ‘Be Yourself‘ shuffles with a Velvet Underground ease and the album closes with the mournful ballad ‘Favorite Kind of Feeling‘, a song made luminous by Swanson’s gorgeous pedal steel.
“These songs helped me get through some difficult times, and I think there’s an almost spiritual feeling when you share personal stories as songs,” McNeal says. “I believe that any song that effectively transports you into the songwriter’s world shares a common thread, regardless of genre.”
This is exactly what we all need right now.
Buy it HERE.