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Matthew E White - Blue Eyed Soul
on 20 May 2013
For those of you who have been longing for that type of experimentation, which Lambchop majored upon in their greatest album "Nixon" (2000) then your search is complete. On this new album "Big Inner", out of the corner of some dark studio emerges 29-year musician Matthew E White who takes country, soul and R&B and serves them up in a big old stew which Kurt Wagner would warmly applaud. He uses the label "Blue Eyed Soul" and it is an intoxicating confection of sweet sounds and farm house spirituals played a big musical collective of musicians straining like greyhounds at the start to get going. White is a session musician by trade but more than this he has his own Spacebomb Records imprint and intends to use this with vision. Thus he harks back to the days of Stax records, has a recording studio in Richmond Virginia and a house band, with the idea being that artists signed to Spacebomb will utilise all these musical facilities including the session players on the spot.
On the evidence of "Big Inner," he has chosen his musical comrades, including a full horn and string section, with real care. They produce an album which has first class honours written all over it. It includes seven tracks all anchored by White's soulful almost spoken vocal and the sort of backdrop which labels like Stax and the Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama used to patent. Opener "One of these days" sets a groove with a big rolling bass to provide the architecture but is never showy or booming. It relies on the growing rumble of horns, the interjection of the an occasional soulful guitar and White's slowly unfolding vocal teasing the song to its almost Southern gospel conclusion. Indeed religion is present on this album and clearly if it was good enough for Otis Redding then it's good enough for White (who in turn must have borrowed that white suit on the cover from Eric Clapton's wardrobe circa 1973?) Next up the brilliant standout "Big love" alternatively is pure funk with a piano so wicked it should be exorcised. "Will you love me" references the melody of Joe South's "Games people play" with part of the lyric of Jimmy Cliff's "Too many rivers to cross". It will plant itself in your head like Japanese Knotweed and refuse to budge. It is a much more poignant ballad which follows in the shape of "Gone Away" where almost Randy Newman style hymn emerges, dedicated to the death of one of White's cousins. That said if there is a problem with the album it is that it rarely touches the Richter scale in terms of excitement and on this track the languid spell woven by White becomes wearing on the repeated spiritual refrain that closes the song. Much better is the Allen Toussaint shuffle of "Steady Pace" and the far more robust rootsy ballad "Hot Toddies" which ends with a throbbing jazzy rhythm workout.
The whole kit and caboodle is rounded off with the nearly 10 minutes long "Brazos" that builds to a big funky ending, is imbued with overt religious imagery and encapsulates the many great elements of the album but also the odd tendency towards repetition. Whatever the case Matthew E White and Co have built an impressive soul mash-up on "Big Inner" which harks back to the glory days of great American labels but throws in enough modernity to be highly engaging. Ultimately this is a gentle, subdued and fetching album by consummate musicians plying their songs with an underpinning ethic firmly located within the old school of mastering a musical trade with impeccable technique and expanding upon it. The "Big Inner" takes its soul stew and delivers on all the ingredients.