Monday, November 12, 2012

Matty Powell: Kiss the City

My friend Matty Powell released a new album called Kiss The City this past weekend. It's still very much tied to the folk-music tradition like his previous work, but shows Matty expanding his sound with higher production and more varied supporting instruments. However he stays true to his strengths, letting his voice and acoustic guitar shine through as the central unifying forces on the album.

The new approach serves Matty well on many of the songs, giving them a texture and depth that elevates them from campfire singalongs to true pop tracks. Nowhere is this more noticeable than on "Freja," which has been expanded from a cute acoustic ditty to a fully fleshed out ode from a loving father. Likewise, "Toronto" is given mesmerizing new life via a full accompaniment that brings out the song's bittersweet sense of nostalgia. The searing lead guitars on songs like "Yellowquill" and "Smoke Rings" make them sound like something by Greg Keelor. Meanwhile, the supporting instruments help Matty come out as a joyous musical preacher on the patently silly "A to Z of Apple Trees."

However, at times it unfortunately seems like the production is outside Matty's comfort zone. The background synths added to "Any Other Way" make the song sound unsure of its own direction. There's also a tinny sound to much of the album that detracts from its acoustic roots. Matty also stumbles at the songwriting level in a few places, such as with the over-rhyming in "Beatrice" or the awkward spanish verse in "The Creek."

However, one thing that can be said of every song on Kiss The City is that Matty's catchy chord structures and earnest vocals give them undeniable heart. Even when the production gets away from him or the lyrics don't totally work, there's a strength and conviction to Matty's delivery that makes his work endearing. This is a big part of the reason he's a great folk artist, and some of the album's best tracks succeed in capturing this raw essence: songs like "This Cigarette" and (albeit to a lesser extent) "Beatrice" display an unabashed singer-songwriter who's completely without pretension.

Kiss The City shows an artist in transition, playing with new and bigger sounds to move from being a troubadour to a multifaceted pop-folk act. Sometimes he falters but never seriously, and all throughout he retains the earnestness and talent that made his earlier work so affective. It's certainly more evolution than revolution (both in terms of Matty's style and generally speaking), but Kiss The City is a worthwhile addition to the pop folk canon and to Matty's discography. I for one am excited to see what he does next, and to see him live (again).

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