Saturday, September 5, 2009

Believing in the leaves - Matt Joe Gow

I think it's pretty close to forever ago that I last went out to listen to a live band - unless, of course, you count the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra but, as my nephew Scott points out, they only do covers, so they don't really count. But tonight I'm breaking the drought with a band called Matt Joe Gow and the Dead Leaves and so, in preparation for my big outing, I've been spending some time today listening to their album The Messenger.

This music is, as I understand it, fairly securely grounded in alt-country territory, with a bit of folk and a bit of rock grafted on. The combination works wonderfully well and, within the first few bars your foot is tapping, your head is nodding, your body is rocking and you are swept up in the whirlwind of the opening track.

It's a song as full of hope and excitement as it is of warning - "It's best to make the most of this/Fate is know to twirl and twist even the face" - but the music makes you throw caution quite literally to the winds, and you are convinced that it is worth giving life and love a go. It's a fantastic way to open an album.

But winds wreak havoc, and much of the rest of The Messenger is telling you about the damage. They are songs about loss of love, moving on, looking back, saying goodbye and, ultimately, feeling at peace with it all and treasuring the memories for what they are.

All of this comes to us via the earthy, no-nonsense voice of Matt Joe Gow, backed by guitars, drums, sometimes piano, sometimes fiddle, sometimes an incredibly soulful harmonica as in the stunning interlude in "Come What May".

The singing, the playing, the music, the lyrics, all have an honesty to them that makes you believe, and believe in, it all.

The structural and, for me also emotional, centre of the album is "Land Is Burning", a song of cataclysmic grief, where the earth itself seems to be sharing in the loss. But it is surrounded by songs that are easier, gentler, breezier - and you are left feeling that the things that go wrong in life and love are really just part of the journey that we all take, and that we all share. You can't feel alone when you listen to music like this.

Everything comes to a wonderfully poignant rest in the last song, "Up On The Hill", where a man goes back to his childhood home and to his memories of parents breaking up and shattered childhood dreams, and manages to find resolution, forgiveness and peace. It's a gentle rocking, calming song - balancing the scales perfectly to the tornado of the opening track.

The nett result of an album with music as good as this, and structured as well as this, is that when you play the whole thing through, you feel a kind of completeness, like a good meal of the best home cooking you ever had.

Matt Joe Gow and the Dead Leaves' The Messenger is, for me, another great 3 PBS discovery - and while I am far, far too old to be going out to a gig that probably won't begin until close to midnight, this music has given me the energy to almost feel that might be able to manage it.


  1. Sorry I haven't had a chance to comment on this blog yet - after all your comments on mine - but this is a fantastic blog. I'm not so familiar with a lot of the artists myself, but having grown up in a house where anything non-classical was practically forbidden, there's a large amount of fascinating stuff that we're missing out on if we don't listen to.

    Hopefully one day, we'll see a much more democratic listening system, where music won't be pigeon-holed so ruthlessly, and people can quite happily have Pearl Jam and Beethoven on their iPod and enjoy each for what it is.

    Now, one quick question - I know you haven't listened to a lot of non-classical stuff - but surely you must have come across Roy Orbison, the rock world's reply to Farinelli?

  2. Well, despite CD-buying behaviour of almost obsessive-compulsive proportions over the past three months, I don't yet have any Roy Orbison at ll - but clearly he needs to be part o the mix.

    I guess pigeon-holing has its purposes to a degree - it at least can help us get some sort of order to things. The problem arises when we our assessment is based on our judgements of the pigeon hole's label, rather than by the value of its contents.

  3. Matt Joe Gow and the Dead leaves? I too would leave the house to see this band of brothers live if and when they return to Sydney. And I AM getting on, fast closing on 60.

    Constantly looking them up on You Tube. Mesmerised by aural pleasures of Come What May and now The Light.

    First saw a clip on Foxtel Country Music (don't hold that against me), and then half heard interview on ABC Radio National where James Valentine played Come What May.

    Will have to purchase in hard copy CD, my first such in years. Just as I purchased my first ever piece of music, a Rolling Stones EP, in the 1960s.

    My first ever response to a blog, hope I haven't lowered the tone.

  4. Thanks for the post Barbara ... and the tone is raised, not lowered, as a result! But you're right - they are an incredible band, with an amazing honesty to their music that just keeps you glued ... don't hesitate to get their CD, you won't regret it for an instant!