New Dirt Road Opera CD rattles my bones with joy
By Charlie Hodge.
Perhaps it’s my creeping age, or simply my total dedication to supporting local music. Regardless, it’s been a number of years since I’ve been as thrilled and impressed to hold a new local musical creation in my hands as I am today. Nowheresville by Dirt Road Opera is quite simply a collection of 12 superb songs that once again is destined to put a couple of familiar musical names back in the national spotlight.
Dirt Road Opera is cornerstoned by three regulars: Barry Mathers, Rachel Matkin and Jim ‘Pa’ Ryan while often joined on stage by Gary Smythe. If the names are familiar they should. For more than twenty-five years Mathers joined Curtis Tulman as mainstays of the popular country-rock band the Cruzeros with Matkin, Ryan and Smythe long time members of the same group.
Without question Mathers is one of Canada’s outstanding songwriters, a lyricist of astonishing prose and poetry, often unrecognized for his literary skills. In addition the veteran musician is admired in the music industry for his distinct, smooth yet sometimes raspy vocals. Nicknamed several years ago by band mates as ‘golden throat’, his vocal skills simply seem to improve with time.
Matkin has voice that weakens knees and inspires tears of admiration. A singing sensation since her teen-age years Rachel is well known in western Canada for her vocal abilities, though most often showcased in a role of singing harmonies. Nowheresville thankfully changes that.
Jim Ryan is the premier musician in the group. Skilled in almost any instrument he puts his mind to, Jim is well known for his mastery of anything with a keyboard, however his greatest skill is the magic he manifests picking up a bass guitar. The man makes the instrument dance. (And he’s just so much fun to watch on stage).
While the three had brilliant moments in days gone by, they have surpassed themselves in this brand new compilation.
Nowheresville will be released as an album this Sunday (February 16) the same day as their third single, the album title song is released as a single. Music fans need not take my word on how brilliant this album is – go to dirtroadopera.ca
The CD showcases Mather’s song-writing with new tunes Tell the Truth (my album favourite), Perfection, Into Your World, and Nowheresville, as well as remixes of previously recorded winner tunes Hard to Find, The Way It Is Around Here, Can’t Find A Way, and Play That Old Steel.
Four other songs complete the album, Horseshoe Turn (written by Rachel’s father Dave Matkin) Mother and Me (written and sang by Ryan) and two great covers Seven Shells (Fred Eaglesmith) and Rattlin’ Bones by Kasey Chambers. The latter two songs kick off the album.
Mathers also produced and engineered most of the CD at his Redhouse Recording in Kelowna. Mixing was done by industry icon Bill Buckingham at Palace Studios in Vancouver
The nicest bonus for me, aside from the strong overall musicianship, glorious harmonies of Matkin and Mathers, and superb production, is the fuller exposure of Matkin’s sweet and diverse vocals. Her gifted voice is highlighted in lead singing roles on Can’t Find A Way, Hard to Find, Horseshoe Turn, and Tell The Truth. With an angelic yet expressive voice Matkin has always had the unique professional ability to quietly blend in as a background harmony on many tunes without the ego need to standout. Many such gifted singers are not able to truly share the vocal spotlight. In this album Matkin and Mathers do just that. And it works wonderfully.
An interesting sidebar is the introduction of Mathers as a harmonica player. For most of his career Mathers counted on legendary and multiple award winning harmonica and saxophone skills of former Cruzeros Tulman. During the past few years however Mathers has learned the intricacies of the mouth organ. Most impressive is the majority of his harmonica playing is without hands as he strums his guitar. Multi-tasking to the max.
This album is destined to garner Dirt Road Opera a lot of attention and if you are a roots music fan or supporter of Canadian content this is a must CD for your collection. I encourage you to give it a listen on their website or any of the multiple online options such as Spotify, Amazon etcetera.
The only critique I have, and minor at that, is the choice to lead the album with three songs that are not Mathers’ written. I recognize from a marketing perspective leading the album off with a kick-butt classic such as Seven Shells (which they knock out of the park), however as great as Rattlin’ Bones is I think an original should have been slotted in number two spot. Pretty minor and petty critique is suppose.
Nowheresville the album is destined to take Mathers and crew somewhere good for sure. Perhaps even that long awaited ride on the big musical bus. Well done.