by Chris Familton
Seemingly emerging out of nowhere, Matthew E. White’s Big Inner is quickly spreading via word-of-mouth as one of the first great albums of 2013. Those accolades are well and truly deserved for a record that balances intimacy and grand gestures so well. The ideas are simple (love and religion) yet the prolific melodies and strength of composition make it sound like a new take on such well trawled subject matter.
White ostensibly set out to create an album that would showcase his Virginia recording studio and the cast of musicians that often played there. Big Inner will no doubt draw attention to his studio but White is the star here, conjuring up a set of songs that draw from prog-folk, country, soul, jazz and 60s r&b and funk. The results sound surprisingly fresh and vibrant, never once falling into retrograde nostalgia. Horns honk over swelling strings, piano, flute and didgeridoo are woven together while gospel choirs urge redemption and nimble basslines tumble deeply in the grooves. It is White’s voice that creates the warm sense of intimacy that pervades the album. It isn’t impressive in terms of the notes he hits or the range of emotion he conveys, the key is his tone – complete with wavers and the restrained pleading characteristic that singers like Stuart Staples (Tindersticks), Jason Pierce (Spiritualized) and Kurt Wagner (Lambchop) have mastered.
Big Inner culminates in the nine minute gospel-psych of Brazos that travels a fairly straight route before opening out into an all hands on deck musical love-in dedicated to Jesus that acts as a concluding exclamation point to the record. This album is a glorious piece of work akin to falling down a kaleidoscopic rabbit hole and tumbling through decades of music refracted through a prism of psychedelic country soul.
this review was first published in The Drum Media / The Music