Thursday, June 25, 2020

CD Odyssey Disc 1380: Matt Patershuk

It has been a hard week for me and my circle of friends, as on Monday we all collectively said our goodbyes to our dear and close friend, Karen Wipond.

Moments after she passed, I was walking to meet up with my friend (and Karen’s partner) Nick, focusing hard on keeping it together. I decided that listening to some CD Odyssey related album in that moment was too much and went with the rarely used “random all” setting on my MP3 player. It holds around 17,000 songs and the one that came on first? Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me”.

When I did find it within myself to get back to the Odyssey, the randomly selected album was this next one by Matt Patershuk. An album that, like the Bill Withers tune, was exactly the sentiment that needed expressing.

Disc 1380 is…. I Was So Fond of You
Artist: Matt Patershuk

Year of Release: 2016

What’s up with the Cover? A Giant Head Cover. In this case the Giant Head was painted by Patershuk’s sister, Clare, who was killed by a drunk driver on the Canada Day weekend of 2013. No jokes about the Giant Head this time.

How I Came To Know It: I read about Patershuk in a Canadian folk music magazine called Penguin Eggs. I think it was the album after this one, but I got here by drilling backward.

How It Stacks Up: I have four Matt Patershuk albums now. Of the four, “I Was So Fond of You” is #1. And that’s saying something, because Matt Patershuk records are consistently excellent.

Ratings: 4 stars

Whew. Tough week, but Matt Patershuk was just what Dr. Music prescribed; a gentle collection of narrative gems glugging out bittersweet songs at the crossroads of folk and country, like a tipped over bottle of bourbon.

Patershuk has a voice that was built to make a room quiet without ever yelling. He just seems the type that when he speaks, people listen. When he sings it’s even better. His baritone is smooth and full and within the first couple of lines it sinks you deep into whatever story Patershuk is telling.

The record additionally benefits from the backing vocals of Ana Egge. Regular readers will know my love for Egge’s solo work, but it was her efforts on Patershuk’s records that discovered her to me in the first place. She sings in what I think is the same key as Patershuk, only one octave higher (I could be wrong, I’m not good at that sort of thing). Whatever she’s doing, it is perfect, coming in on the most poignant parts of the song and adding a sting of folksy sweetness on top of Patershuk’s rustic, country troubadour style delivery.

The record has plenty of sad moments, notably the title track, which is an ode to Patershuk’s dead sister, Clare. It was hard to listen to this song this week, but it was also therapeutic. Patershuk is sad, but he’s also grateful for the great memories. It is a good perspective, and worth internalizing. The song is the most raw and honest on the record, delivered with an ambling gait that gives it a traditional western feel.

Patershuk reserves his deeper darkness for the fictional parts of the record, such as “Harviestown” in which the narrator plans to exact vigilante justice on a ne’er-do-well who murdered a loved one. The additional tragedy of the story is caught in Patershuk’s complex portrait of his character. Not a murderer by nature, just a simple man who in his grief can’t see any other way to get justice:

“Well, I’m goin’ down to Harviestown
To do what must be done
And I’m gonna use my two bare hands
I won’t need that gun.

“Well I try to be a better man
I need his blood here on my hands
I know it’ll take a piece of me
But I must do it if I can.”

Even in his resolution, the “if I can” implies the man is not inclined to violence, and aware he is not built for suck black acts. It gives the song a human touch and ending with those lines, an uncertain outcome.

The album is replete with standout narratives like this, including a wonderful song about a World War Two veteran who finds solace from the memories of conflict in music on “Little Guitar.” “Pep the Cat Murdering Dog” is a lighthearted semi-factual account of a dog sentenced to life in prison in 1924 by a warden for purportedly murdering the cat of the warden’s wife.

The album ends with “Tennessee Walker” a love letter to a horse. The song has a jump in the rhythm that made me want to line dance or two-step or any of those other western dances I can’t do that look like a lot of fun. The song also features a tip of the hat to Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road, with Earle’s big black Dodge lines converted back to original horsepower:

“Well I still remember that rumblin’ sound
All four feet coming off the ground.”

And a couple well-placed shouts of “hep!” shouts a la Earle for good measure. Halfway through the song when Ana Egge’s vocals come in with some call-and-answer action, the song is elevated from pleasant memory to pure joy.

Ultimately “Tennessee Walker” is another memory of sister Clare; this time of her favourite horse. Her memory is laced through the record, and while her death looms large in Patershuk’s writing, her life looms even larger, bringing resolve and comfort without ever feeling trite or false. Like I said earlier; it was just what I needed.

Best tracks: Prettiest Ones, Smoke a Little Cigarette, Harviestown, I Was So Fond Of You, , Little Guitar, Pep the Cat Murdering Dog, Tennessee Walker

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