Release Date: Aug 21, 2012
Record label: Hometapes
Genre(s): Soul, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock
When it was released in the US last year, the praise that greeted Matthew E White's debut album was tinged with a degree of shock. To suggest that the 29-year-old appeared out of nowhere is to risk an online comments section chiding your ignorance – "Where have you been if you haven't heard of psychedelic country-rockers the Great White Jenkins and improvisatory jazz octet Fight the Big Bull? Call yourself a rock critic?" Still, it's fair to say his previous work slipped largely under the radar of anyone not paying very close attention to the Richmond, Virginia indie scene: his most high-profile gig to date was as arranger on Transcendental Youth, the last album by the Mountain Goats. In a world of rock and pop where surprises are seldom sprung – where things progress at an internet-forced pace, so new artists start getting written about before they've released anything, and debut albums are greeted with ennui by an audience that have already had their fill before the main course arrives – there's something striking about someone who arrives, without much in the way of fanfare, not merely with a great album, but a grand idea.
To call Big Inner – the debut album by hirsute, bespectacled Virginian session musician and band leader Matthew E White – the first great album of 2013 might be a little reckless. Not because it isn't a terrific album (it is) or because we live in hyperbolic times where a state of giddy overexcitement is attached to far too many mediocre records by people looking for page impressions (we do), but because Big Inner was actually released in the US in August last year on the bijou Hometapes label. The quicksilver interconnectedness of everything tuneful means that, for a cadre of aficionados at least, this extraordinary record is last year's news.
On the cover of his debut album, Matthew E. White rocks a white suit he might have borrowed from 1970 Eric Clapton and a mane/ beard combo he might have borrowed from 1975 Bob Seger. Inside, the laid-back sounds of the Seventies have rarely been this laid-back: Lazily swelling Randy Newman orchestrations and hippie-gospel choirs coil around the sleepiest Allen Toussaint grooves, as White, who's from Richmond, Virginia, soul-mumbles about the power of the Lord (the nine-minute "Brazos"), randomly quotes Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers to Cross" ("Will You Love Me") and turns in a resplendently somnolent funk workout ("Big Love").
Virginian musician Matthew E White looks like he’s auditioning to become the newest member of the Fleet Foxes on the cover of his debut album, entitled Big Inner. In fact, the heavily bearded musician has much loftier ambitions. Big Inner is the first release from White’s label Spacebomb, a project centered around a house band that will become the basis of all future recordings by artists on the label.
Soulful debut is stunning introduction to producer’s talents…It opens with a song with no intro. It’s a love song called “One Of These Days”, and its one of those songs where the intensity of the lyrics is undercut by the contemplative hush of the music, and the humble, diffident voice of a new artist called Matthew E. White.White is not a singer or songwriter by trade.
Matthew E. White has fallen in and out of love. He’ll tell you about it, if you’re willing to listen. Big Inner isn’t a misnomer; White reaches deep within his psyche on his debut album and unfurls emotions, confessions, and misgivings. But this isn’t catharsis. He doesn’t mull over a ….
The hirsute Matthew E. White shoots soul arrows straight up from the Virginia coast, piercing gray clouds seeded by Bon Iver and Beck, and falling back to the swampy earth of Randy Newman and Dr. John. “Cool” is a word we don’t use well, but it’s hard to think of any better way to describe the seven tracks collected on Big Inner: this is gospel-smacked, laidback music, tinseled by horns and strings and grounded in a big, big love.
Years 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.
Many have tried to recreate the vibrancy and laidback groove of vintage soul-pop, but to absolutely nail it you need to be someone truly cosmic. Amy Winehouse just about managed it, and Matthew E White is one other such person, whose splendiferous seven-track beast has finally arrived in the UK. Born in Virginia Beach and raised in Manila by missionary parents, White – who bears an uncanny resemblance to hippy scientist Professor Denzil Dexter from The Fast Show – is a man with a unique take on the world.
A gentle giant with an unassuming voice and a knack for distilling New Orleans R&B, Tropicália, and '70s soft rock into a sweet and smoky, Southern-style indie pop confection, Richmond, Virginia-based singer/songwriter and arranger Matthew E. White's Hometapes' debut, Big Inner, is as frustrating as it is cosmically transcendent. Part Allen Toussaint, part Chico Buarque, and more than a little bit of Harry Nilsson, White's musicality (he moonlights as the leader of avant-garde jazz band Fight the Big Bull) is impressive to say the least, and stand-out cuts like "Steady Pace" and the nearly-ten-minute "Brazos" suggest a real musical awakening.
In the world of Virginian Matthew E White it’s permanently the mid-1970s. Round at his studio Randy Newman sits, shooting the breeze with a couple of grizzled jazzbos, while over in the other corner Al Green talks arrangements with the Memphis Horns. At least, that’s the image conjured by the music on White’s debut album, Big Inner. The reality is that White, along with his label Spacebomb, has created the 21st century equivalent of the in-house label band, and at the same time produced a brilliant blueprint for future success.
“Baby, will you love me?” asks Matthew E. White on his debut album, Big Inner. That’s the thing about White: He’s careful and delicate but never timid. Most of his songs resemble little model ships, painstakingly constructed and impeccably designed with an eye for even the most inconsequential detail, but instead of being stored in tight little bottles and placed on a shelf these songs are sent off to sea, driven only by the gentle breeze of White’s voice.
Josh Berman & His Gang The name of this band deliberately echoes Chicago jazz groups of the distant past, like Bix Beiderbecke and His Gang, and the Austin High Gang, which included the cornetist Jimmy McPartland and the clarinetist Frank Teschemacher, and the guitarist Eddie Condon as a kind of auxiliary member. This gives you a clue that Mr. Berman, a cornetist in his late 30s, is kind of a scholar.