Live review: Matthew E White
The next time you’re having an argument with, say, your father, and he says “They don’t make music like they used to,” send him Matthew E White’s way.
White’s bewildering debut has been getting glorious reviews and it’s little wonder – he recorded it in just seven days but it sounds like an album that was a lifetime in the making. Big Inner is seven gorgeously textured, intricate songs, crafted with the kind of fire in the belly that any fine Virginian preacher would be proud of.
On record, there are layers within musical layers, hooks sheathed in velvet brass and horn lines that take repeated listenings to fully unpack. Here, White is touring with a stripped-back set-up, but what he lacks in horns and brass he makes up for with groove and class. This is a band so in the pocket in their playing, it’s hard to believe they haven’t been a decade on the road.
This is music red in tune and claw. The band play up the funk and soulful elements of Big Inner, leaning into the curves of the songs with conviction and swagger. Verses are broken up with the odd jazzy measure, just to keep things unpredictable. Bassist Cameron Ralston is a centre-stage anchor, letting his lines swarm up and over White’s soloing guitar, but without ever betraying the groove being pushed and pulled by Pinson Chanselle on drums and Scott Clark on percussion. (Chanselle has a habit of letting his drum rolls kick out over three or four languid bars; the effect is quietly explosive.)
Trey Pollard gives White a run for his emotional money on pedal steel and piano, while Gabe Churray lends the whole thing substance and soul on Rhodes and synths.
White is a prodigiously talented arranger, and here his voice is just one of the glittering instruments brought into play, with no one musician dominating. This is a beautifully balanced group effort, a seamless, musical front, a lesson in how to be in a band.
White takes Big Inner and repurposes it, making the choruses seem familiar, like you’ve been singing them for years, catalogued in your head on the same shelf as The Band, Dr John or Marvin Gaye. Big Love slips in all hip, with its cop-show swagger leant a little more muscle. The heartbreaking Gone Away gets some steel to go with its rising, soft lament. And the gorgeous Brazos lays into its preaching with more percussive punch, arriving at the end of an hour-long show.
This is a sublime performance from a fully-formed talent who we should be listening to for years to come. Here’s hoping he comes back soon – and brings the brass for good measure.