MATT WALKER

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Ahh-- the perfect antidote for over produced, sanitized radio fare: a guitar and drum duo that tracks live in the studio. Walker knows how to churn a simple groove into a huge wall of sound. The approach is reckless, immediate, and starkly beautiful.

 

- Andy Ellis, Guitar Player Magazine US

 

Wunderkind who may be the best thing out of Melbourne since Nick Cave…… is there a more exciting talent than Matt Walker treading the rock'n'roll boards in Australia right now? …. as a singer, songwriter and guitarist, he's touched by greatness….. what sticks with you is the perfect melding of Walker's youthful voice, with its tone of bruised innocence and the desperate conviction of these songs.

 

- Sydney Morning Herald

 


"In Echoes of Dawn"

Reviewed by Jeff Lang

for Unpaved

Posted on October 3, 2012

The songwriting is front and centre on In Echoes Of Dawn, the latest CD after a 7 year absence from Melbourne’s Matt Walker and he doesn’t let down the promise implied by the focus on the material. Recorded by Dave Manton in the hills of country Victoria and self-produced by Matt himself this is an album that is in no hurry to impress. It will reward your attention plenty but it helps to slow down and step into its world for a bit. In my listening experience these are the richest types of albums, where you feel you’re entering a self-contained world, one where the songs invite you to project your experiences onto them and derive your own meaning. This is what Matt has created with In Echoes Of Dawn’s beguiling collection of songs.

“Fife And Drum” starts the album with a decisively moody tone. As the piano stikes doomy chords and a low-down electric guitar picks taut, sinewy notes Walker intones ‘Let me tell you people / something’s been going on wrong’ and the listener is plunged into the singular mood of Matt Walker’s music. “Fife And Drum” almost sounds like a manifesto with it’s chorus stating ‘I won’t falter’, but it’s verses offer a counterpoint that ‘you can lose yourself / it’s so easy to do / it’s more simple than falling in love / but that’s easy too’.

‘Back To The Hills’ is a charming love song driven forward by unhurried electric guitar and a chunky barrelhouse piano. It has a lovely 1970s tone to it, an impression born out by Matt himself who has said it was intended to have something of a J.J. Cale sound. With it’s double-tracked vocal and easy-loping feel it certainly wouldn’t be out of place on Cale’s Naturally, but again it is no carbon copy. Matt’s highly personalized slide guitar style alone sees to that. In “Can’t Sleep” a droning acoustic slide guitar is effectively offset by violin lines played by one of the album’s few guests Jason Bunn. The violin is doubled by Matt’s own harmonium and together they offer a slightly eastern-tinged counter melody to the singing, further complimenting the impressionistic lyrics evoking the feeling of staying up till dawn. “Veil Of Night” — one of several beautiful love songs on the record — spins out the lines of rediscovered devotion over a gorgeously melancholic melody, before giving way to a wordless refrain with Matt joined by Zoe Randall and Steve Hassett shadowed by Matt’s always sublime lap steel.

Nearly all instruments on the album are played by Walker himself, which gives it a wonderfully home/hand-made feeling. He first came to prominence as a guitarist of rare skill and has been employed by many through the years for his empathetic touch on all manner of stringed instruments, including Broderick Smith (who, after being in The Dingoes alongside Kerryn Tolhurst and Chris Stockley, knows a thing or two about great guitarists), Renee Geyer and more recently Tex Perkins.

One of the things I love about Matt Walker’s music is the way every instrument he plays is given voice in a way that is recognisably Matt’s alone. Whether it’s lap steel or mandolin, acoustic or electric guitar, dobro or harmonica, the way he writes or the way he sings, it’s all imbued with the same essential quality. While no-one can claim to be reinventing music or the like, Matt is absolutely his own man, all the way. Although the playing on In Echoes Of Dawn is always expertly employed, the songs and singing remain in the centre of the picture. Matt is that rarest of beasts – an incredible instrumentalist who doesn’t appear to care if anyone notices. For those who do enjoy Matt’s instrumental prowess the initial run of CDs comes with a full bonus disc of instrumental pieces including one with long-time musical partner Ashley Davies on drums, and many of which sounding like they would work a treat on a film soundtrack.

The lyrical highlights on the album are many. In the extremely moving title track the singer tells the object of his thoughts, possibly a departed friend, ‘you showed me my world / a cinder sprung to living fire / in the shadow of a smile’, before offering the heartbreaking coda ‘in the land of all things sad / it took two years for a tear to fall / I’m just tired that’s all’.

“Failed To Stop” sits at the centre of the album for mine, feeling like the gravitational point around which the rest of the songs have settled. It is a quietly intense piece hanging on an insistent piano line as the singer speaks of the horrors of an unnamed foreign war. ‘When did everything turn / was it before I was around?’, ‘where’s it gonna end? / news flash from CNN says / “failed to stop” and now they’re dead’. Heavy stuff. As Walker breaks into a mournful high-pitched falsetto to take the song to its close I can see in my mind newsreel footage from a documentary about the first Gulf War showing what remained of a long line of civilians who were trying to flee Baghdad in their vehicles. They were torched in their cars and buses along the roadside, misery and lost hope and unanswered crimes as far as the camera could see. That’s the sort of thing this song conjures up from it’s minimal ingredients and is testimony to the powerful spell that Matt is capable of casting. The song is dark, dark, dark. Not in a maudlin way, but dark enough that it could have been hard to follow.

After the brief palate-cleansing instrumental “Planets”, the place deemed best to turn is to love as a subject matter. But such is the strength of the writing on this record that the following “Let’s Fall In Love Again” isn’t just another love song, rather simply one of the most touching declarations of devotion to a soul mate that I can recall off the top of my head. ‘I’m a lonely boy, you are a child / not scared of death, breathless and wild / this world is convinced that you will never be mine / let’s fall in love again’. The album’s balance is further provided by the bouncing mandolin-led “Mama Tell Your Children” with it’s comforting words of reassurance to a companion. Some lovely melodic harmonica from Broderick Smith is the icing on the cake here.

The thing that ultimately impresses me the most listening to this record is Matt’s singing. Like Neil Young and Richard Thompson in their own ways, Matt sings in a heartfelt, soulful and utterly convincing fashion that makes no concessions to received wisdom about what it takes to be “a great singer”. His voice sounds youthful, not old and wizened, yet has an authority that makes his words ring as ‘true’. He doesn’t sound like he’s attempting to sound black, rather seems to make no apology for the white-ness of his voice. He sings with a mellifluous note-bending style that flirts around the pitch of notes yet never sounds remotely out-of-tune. As with Young and Thompson (at least to me anyway) it is simply very, very moving to hear them sing. To compare him to the aforementioned in any direct way would be misleading however, as they sound nothing like Matt Walker. That’s just it, no one does really.

 

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