There is talent you glancingly acknowledged and then there is talent you ignore at your own risk. Consider West Virginia’s William Matheny amongst the latter.
The 11 songs featured on his pending debut, Strange Constellations, contain echoes of the hard won wit and wisdom of Loudon Wainwright III, the guitar prowess of James Burton, and the tensile anger of a young Paul Westerberg. But crucially, Matheny’s is a new voice, marinated in tradition, but utterly idiosyncratic and entirely his own. For those fortunate several who have seen Matheny perform his indelible tunes live, there is no further need of proof. For those not yet in the know, see him at your next opportunity, and prepare to be floored.
Neil Young once mused that rock and roll’s first novel advancement was its co-option of country music’s Saturday night revelry and simultaneous shirking of its Sunday morning reckoning. But Neil knew as well as anybody that one day the bill comes due. William Matheny knows this too, and his various forays into flesh-driven pleasures are always abetted by hard consequence. The snarling, neighborhood bully country soul of "Out For Revenge" co-exists uneasily, but brilliantly alongside the panoramic, decades-spanning consideration "My Grandfather Knew Stoney Cooper." Matheny’s writing tends towards the inescapably catchy and the unpleasantly honest. In keeping with the work of his stated role model Tom T. Hall, everything is in play here - sex, love, politics, alcohol, sex, alcohol and all of its attendant cousins. The comically terrifying "Living Half to Death" apologizes for the fact he "abused all [his] friendships / and drank all their beer." The murderously infectious punk of "29 Candles" causes you to question whether he really feels that sorry at all.
Superficial considerations of Matheny’s work threaten to ghettoize him as a "roots" artist or, worse, "alt-country." For forward-thinking listeners, this is the height of inanity - the literate toughness and eye-rolling anger of his material owe far more to Warren Zevon than any of Americana’s 90’s darlings. Matheny is not a roots artist in the sense of regurgitating familiar musical tropes or donning a uniform. The roots here run far closer to the musically polygamous genius of Elvis Costello, the acid misanthropy of Graham Parker, the country punk of Dwight Yoakam, or the moonshine-addled historicity of the Drive-By Truckers. A crackerjack backing band featuring Adam L. Meisterhans, Bud Carroll, Ian Thornton and Rod Elkins ensures that matters stay on track even when Matheny might become derailed. Like Costello’s Attractions or Parker’s Rumour, these are seasoned pros equally at home with whatever whims - sublime, salacious, or savage - that their leader might be inclined to indulge on any given late night.
Great artists come along seldom, thank god. If they came along all the time, we’d all be fucked. William Matheny is one of the rare few - a great artist who demands our attention and rewards it in perpetuity. Let him keep living half to death until he can do no more.
- From: Mannington, West Virginia
- Year Formed: 2013
- Members: William Matheny, Adam L. Meisterhans, Bud Carroll, Ian Thornton, Rod Elkins