With an album title like Trucker Caps and Heart Attacks, one might expect Mat Black to have the kind of gravelly, whisky-soaked-sounding voice that can sometimes be heard on country music songs about long, lonely drives on unstable roads (both literal and metaphorical). Instead, Black has a wonderful, versatile, warm and well-rounded instrument – a voice that stretches and bends and curves around the differing styles of the ten songs on his debut album.
The first single off the album, ‘Diamond Mine’, was co-written with fellow Melburnian Lachlan Bryan – Bryan has a distinctive musical identity, but the song belongs to Black. His musical lineage is in alt country and roots; his cited influences include Steve Earle and Johnny Cash, but perhaps they’d be better referred to as inspirations, because Black’s sound is not theirs. Instead he’s crafted his own identity, and it’s one of a man who clearly has stories to tell and who is able to find the right way to tell them.
The lyrics of these songs speak, in part, to darkness and difficulties – perhaps some of those aforementioned unstable roads – but Black is capable of a sweetness (not a pejorative) that suggests an ability to smooth the edges off the flint of his experience. Or, perhaps, to seek to find something good in it – even if that is to create a song out of it. Certainly Black doesn’t wallow in anything described in these songs, and the songs themselves suggest that: there is pace here, and some rollicking good times too. Musically the songs are all under the country umbrella while demonstrating Black’s versatility: there are some swampy moments, some bluesy, some honky tonk, and all of them appropriate to the song.
Ultimately, though, Black’s voice is the centrepiece. For anyone who loves music with lyrics, voice tends to be important – a singer can get in your ear and stay there, calling you back over and over to listen and pay attention, living in your mind and popping up at all sorts of odd times. Black has that kind of voice, and while it’s certainly not the only thing to love about this album, it is the first. Listen and just try to resist it.
Sunday September 15
The Spotted Mallard
With special guests Gretta Ziller & Mr Alford
314 Sydney Rd, Brunswick
Doors 3pm, music from 3.45pm
Tix $13.50 thru Moshtix: https://bit.ly/2TsKOwD