All I heard was “I was killing some time just drinking down at Sophie’s” and I knew I liked this guy already. Made me think of Gary Larson of The Far Side fame and the many cartoons he drew in which he picked precisely the name the cartoon needed. My favorite has always been the deer with the target on his chest (deer do have chests, don’t they?) and the caption “Bummer of a birthmark Hal.” I saw that and fell off my chair laughing because it just fit, you know? Larson could have used any one of a thousand or million names but none of them would have fit as well as Hal. Just like Matt Butler could not have been anywhere but Sophie’s. I mean, you gotta love a person who has that touch.
So I listened. Twelve songs, all dragging me back to my past for reasons only I know, or maybe God if he/she exists. Twelve outstanding songs which all sound so familiar I would swear I had heard them before but each new and fresh and original and striking a musical note I had forgotten I had. The note I felt when I first heard John Denver and Bob Lind and Fred Neil and Gordon Lightfoot and so many others I knew were practically singing just for me, or so I at the time thought. There is a bit of folk in the songs and a bit of country and a bit of rock which I know does not tell you much about the sound but the names mentioned should for he, like them, does have that certain touch.
Throughout the twelve songs, in fact, I can hear bits and pieces of some of my favorite songs by other artists— the high hoos that both Josh Ritter and Sam Morrow use on a couple of their best songs (“Girl in the War” and “War,” respectively), the Duane Eddy-style guitar, the deep haunting pedal steel which can carry a song over the top or to the depths, the picked acoustic guitar. Lots to love here.
Butler has a slight tremor in his voice, usually at the end of lines, which comes naturally and is very appealing to my ears, writes songs like he was born to it and can send you soaring or to the bottom with the twist of a chord or a change of tempo. While I am sure most people will classify him Americana (the catch-all genre of the moment), he is much more. Another of the handful of unclassifiable artists I am finding who write to the song and not to the style. Upbeat or ballad, he is on a ride I want to be on, too.
Favorite songs at present are “When the Sun Goes Down,” a floating ballad with pedal steel which can squeeze tears from stone, “Ride Again,” an upbeat country rocker with a light choogling beat and an outstanding chorus, and “Young Man’s Prison,” a cry for help in song.
I’ve been trying to figure out why I like this guy so much because there is always a reason. I think it might be the voice or the songwriting or the production or the message. When you listen, you pick. If you’re like me, you will more than likely fit it to the song. The good songwriters make you do that. That is one reason we label them good. And this one is good. Really good.