Review : Matthew E. White - Big Inner
PitchforkYears before he became known to younger generations as a grinning, gray-haired fixture at the Academy Awards, perpetually nominated for life-affirming musical contributions to whatever Pixar blockbuster came out the year before, Randy Newman created tangible three-dimensional worlds in the space of two-minute songs. Matthew E. White was among those who got lost in those worlds, rubbing shoulders with the funny and fucked-up characters that Newman created out of a singular mix of spite and empathy. White became so obsessed with Newman that he eventually tracked down the 60-something singer-songwriter at his Los Angeles home, and handed him his own CDs. It was, in a way, a passing-of-the-torch in reverse.
In White's mind, his debut album, Big Inner, might very well be an attempt to re-create Newman's 1974 concept album about southern otherness, Good Old Boys. Inner is certainly southern, it's definitely other, and the songs collectively tell the kind of story that always appealed to Newman, about painfully human creatures yearning for spiritual transcendence and finding that their own flawed, flesh-and-blood selves always seem to get in the way. But where Newman was among the most literary of the late-60s/early-70s post-Dylan generation of singer-songwriters, White's primary mode of expression on Inner is musical. With his background in jazz arranging and natural grasp of American roots music, the native Virginian has positioned himself at the head of a corps of young and veteran musicians-- including Bon Iver's Reggie Pace, Phil Cook of Megafaun, and David Hood, a member of the famed Muscle Shoals band and father to Drive-By Truckers' frontman Patterson Hood-- determined to revive long-lost record-making traditions in the service of re-imagining psychedelic music as gospel hymns.
Big Inner is the first product of Spacebomb, a production entity and record label with a house band composed of White, bassist Cameron Ralston, and drummer Pinson Chanselle at its core. (There is also a sizeable horn and string section, and a choir.) The idea is to bring artists to White's Richmond, Virginia, headquarters-- essentially the attic of a house on the west side of town-- and arrange their songs in the mold of velvety 70s soul, laidback New Orleans funk, and cosmic country-rock, with a special emphasis on vintage-sounding instrumentation and sweaty intimacy. ...full text
TherichmondsceneA languid, snaking beat. A glowing trail of strings. Rising horns. Mournful get-it-on vocals. “One of These Days” is your calling card for Matthew E. White and your first taste of White's debut album "Big Inner." Backed with “Ain’t That What Love Is” (an exclusive gem featuring Phil Cook of Megafaun on keys), this 7” single is also your introduction to Spacebomb, a brand-new-big-little record label in Richmond, VA and a new branch on the Hometapes family tree.
A gentle, musical polymath, Matthew E. White radiates a passion for the history of harmony. He’s a vibrant, prodigious arranger. A hypnotizing performer. A guitar wizard. As a singer, White travels in the same pathways as Allen Toussaint and Randy Newman: modest, soulful, personal, and utterly confident. In these two magic tracks, you’ll begin to hear his wide orbit through sonic history and the clues to "Big Inner": New Orleans R&B, Curtis Mayfield, Terry Riley, Reggae, Sly Stone, Tropicalia, The Band, Harry Nilsson… Matthew E. White is his own timeline. Summer is coming. Matthew E. White also walks the earth as the leader of lauded avant-garde jazz band Fight the Big Bull and has released albums on Clean Feed & Fat Cat, performed around the country and collaborated with artists like Ken Vandermark, Steven Bernstein, Karl Blau, David Karsten Daniels, Megafaun, Sharon Van Etten and Justin Vernon....full text
MusicdirectLike all of us, Matthew E. White was born into a constructed world. His unfolded out of the mingled sands of Virginia Beach and Manila, the youngest son in a family that raised him barefoot between the blurred racket of the Far Eastern jungle city and the backyard lightning-bug-hum of a trimmed Southern lawn. His first moves, from picking up a basketball to picking up a guitar, were cast in the dual glow of these latitudes. Something between them taught him to love. Something between them taught him to time travel.
On that day in August, when the earth shifted into the shape of Matthew E. White, there was so much to listen to, so much to feel, already. The dusts of the Delta had swirled into Rock and Roll. Alan Lomax's recordings sat in a big building in Washington, DC. Lee Perry had built The Black Ark in his backyard in Kingston. Somebody else lived in Big Pink. Mac Rebennack was Dr. John. King Tubby was dubbing. Terry Riley was overdubbing. Sly Stone had hit #1. Randy Newman's Sail Away was a decade old. Caetano Veloso had just turned 40. Muddy Waters was just about gone. Jimmy Cliff had sung "Many Rivers to Cross." So had Harry Nilsson. White shared this common inheritance. He stitched his own flag out of it.
And so it begins with "One of These Days," looking in, up, and over in its declarations of love. It's waking up next to someone. It's feeling the wood of the church pew on your back. This is an introduction to Matthew E. White and the world of Spacebomb; he's convincing you to stay the night. You give me joy like a fountain deep down in my soul. You can hear him breathe in. The first time around, White only hums the chorus. Hums it. Plants it in your head as it blooms in his. Strings enter like a siren.
The guitar only talks when it has something to say. The choir lets you know you're not alone. Overdubbed woodwinds and muted brass like it on top, dancing around the embers of the bass line. Whether you're a woman or man, White's mournful, get-it-on voice may be all you can hear: I don’t want to live a day longer than you, so let’s meet the Lord together. You can call it soul music if you want. It's his soul and it's his music.
For a record so personal, built on such code, it's never been a secret. Inseparable from Matthew E. White is Spacebomb, the process, the sound, the spirit, and the record label which White's debut launches. A trained jazz arranger and exceptional guitarist, White is joined by bassist Cameron Ralston (the Wise) and drummer Pinson Chanselle (the Mighty) in the formation of the Spacebomb House Band. You won't forget those names. This core group, multiplied by horns, strings, and a choir, all culled from and roused by the venerable landscape of Richmond, Virginia, was captured to tape in White's own tricked-out attic on the north side of town....full text
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