Matthew Fowler was already writing songs at the age of 14. With some of his earlier and some of his more recent songs, he eventually laid siege on his family’s kitchen in Orlando, Florida. With a talented group of friends but no recording or mixing experience. The early start and the do-it-yourself method are reminiscent of Conor Oberst’s beginnings and, throughout the record, there are a few lines, such as “The reasons all have run away” in “Blankets” and “I feel better when I sing” in “Near”, that might well be a little wave to Bright Eyes. Playing influence-bingo, I got 4 out of 17 musicians listed on Fowler’s facebook page: The Swell Season, Damien Rice, Ray LaMontagne and said Conor Oberst. So you’re expecting guitar-based singer-songwriter, perhaps with female co-singer? Add piano, stand-up bass, harmonica, trumpets and, wait for it, a melodica and that’s about right. Oh, and there’s weather, too.
The first song “Leaving Home/Open Road” begins with the sound of rain and a vision of canyons. Throughout the album, Fowler’s intensely laid-back, mellow, sometimes raucous, vocals are especially striking whenever they are joined by Tana and Adeline Prado’s brilliant voices. In “Leaving Home/Open Road”, they team up for a poignant “And I will rise / and I will fall / and I will run / and I will crawl / but I will sing / through it all / with you” before the song trickles into part two: “Leaving Home/Telephone Calls”. As it is bursting into some rougher guitar and wilder singing, the kitchen atmosphere suddenly shines through charmingly. Fittingly, the lyrics address a collective urge to sing and Fowler plays the harmonica like he means it.
In line with Cara Rose Clifton’s poetic illustration of a hair maze on the cover, the album wanders through different states of relationships. Along the way, it picks up everyday words; at times very poetically so. One fine example is “Beginners”, which lays the trap with a few slow guitar strums, a couple of piano keys and a forest simile:
“You are young and love’s a dream / like floating through a forest tenderly / and there are branches along the way / that sometimes make us go astray / but you know that it’s the truth / when I say that I love you / and I could never tell a lie / because we are beginners you and I”
And if these lines weren’t remarkable enough, they are closely followed by a terrific melodica solo. In other songs, evocative lines are accompanied by some fierce harmonica and some cool trumpeteering.
The final song “Smoke” blinkingly claims “Death takes us all / for most that is the end” and passes the baton on to the rain. The complementary intro and outro create the funny impression that the flock of songs is encircled by rain. As if the songs are seeking or providing shelter from it. Or, in Fowler’s words, the album is “a set of songs that felt organic, a set of songs that felt like home”. Beginning was released 11 June and is available for name-your-price at http://matthewfowler.bandcamp.com/.
Review by: Anne Malewski