Matt Urmy Sweet Lonesome
One of the standout songs on a recent Red Beet Records sampler was Matt Urmy’s Renaissance Rodeo, a big, bold, sweeping song that spoke of a very self-confident writer. The mood on Sweet Lonesome is rather darker, dealing as it does with the blue side of being alone, of relationships failing – again. It says a lot about the seriousness with which Matt Urmy takes his art that he was going to re-record these songs to bring out meanings and moods that he felt this version didn’t give room to. That would be fascinating to hear but at the time of writing I haven’t had the opportunity to give the re-record a listen. No matter, because there’s more than enough to get my teeth into here. Matt Urmy is a published poet as well as a musician and there’s plenty of evidence in these songs of his practised skill with words. He writes in strong images and, rather like Dylan, makes small fictions to describe true situations; by that I mean that he makes statements that seem bizarre or absurd at times but, in the context of the song, you know exactly what he’s getting at.
The defining sound of this album is Matt’s voice. He may be skinny, young and darkly good looking but he sounds like Lee Marvin’s older, singing cousin. It’s a bottom of the whisky barrel voice that speaks of a long life of hard knocks – given and taken – though at times there’s plenty of warmth and even a little vulnerability in there, especially on the spoken tracks where Matt reads a few lines of his poetry. There’s three of these tracks, more or less at the beginning, middle and end of proceedings; I’m not sure what the intention is, but I reckon the effect is to make sure that you pay attention to the words, to recognise that these are poems which happen to have found some music. And the music? Well, much is made in the publicity that this album was recorded in the Quonset Hut in Nashville, scene of some memorable recordings in the past but unused for the last twenty eight years. However, there’s nothing all that much Nashville about the sound of this album; in fact by the time you get to three tracks in you might decide that this is gospel-tinged blues rock. Backing vocals from Jonell Mosser and Ashley Cleveland have a great gospel feel about them whilst Reg Smith’s swirling organ sounds are the foundation of a big, heavy sound. Quieter songs follow these though as Matt’s vocals become ever more intimate and confidential. ‘Night On The Road’ is about as close as we get to recognisable country; there’s a hint of ‘City of New Orleans’ about the tune and it trucks along nicely with the pedal steel getting equal billing with the organ. Mary Gauthier, a good friend of Matt’s apparently, shows up on the title track which builds to a climax around the organ and electric guitar. It doesn’t sound like normal Mary Gauthier territory really and I can’t say that their voices fit particularly well; there’s a Ray LaMontagne feel about this song but I only say that to give you an idea of the sound because this guy is very much following his own muse and not in any way striving to fit a perceived market niche.
Any one of the ten songs here taken in isolation would make you sit up and pay attention because they’re all beautifully constructed and have an intensity, a seriousness about them that makes them stand out. Somehow or other, though, the whole doesn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts – not for me, anyway. I just can’t quite find the hooks or the musical thread to latch on to that would lodge it firmly in my brain. That’s the way it goes sometimes, but it’s all in the individual listener’s head and in spite of that observation I’d urge anyone to check him out. He’s a highly polished performer and a very individual voice, both of which are always hugely welcome.