Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Matt Owens and Samuel James Taylor

Matt Owens & the Delusional Vanity Project – Beer For The Horses

UK Americana is another made-up genre that puts misfit acts into a box. Matt Owens was part of Noah & The Whale, who came up in the same South London scene as Mumford & Sons and Laura Marling. Matt now has a delusional vanity project, which is what he calls his band, and this is his third solo release.

The great Robert Vincent was in the studio helping to produce the album, which Matt launches at Sutton’s Sound Lounge on November 3. If British country is about good stories with traditional arrangements, then Matt Owens is a shoo-in for Blackpool’s British Country Music Festival in 2023. The title If You Won’t Leave Me, I’ll Find Someone That Will deserves a song to match it. ‘Nepotist mensch’ is a pleasant line in the second verse of a song full of oomph.

The opening track Genie and the Bottle reminds me of a Celtic act like The Waterboys or The Undertones, with Matt’s voice taking on the same tenor as Mike Scott’s or Feargal Sharkey’s. After a minute of solo vocals, a drum loop comes in and the band joins in to set the tone for the album.

The title track is a stomper with Matt’s narrator remembering an old flame who made him happy (‘I hope you had fun’), while the rocking 300 Shows asks the listener if they can do what the band do, ‘night after night, just the band and the crew’.

The softness of Where He Goes and Go Easy On Yourself – a nice counsel about keeping the pressure off one’s shoulders as a father or son – are balanced by the chugging Drinking by the River. That song is immediately followed by Gonna Keep Some of These Vices Around (another fine title). The bridge of Up To Here gets stuck on a G chord, as if the narrator is also stuck. The lyrics include wordplay about turning over a new leaf and rounds of ‘fine vermouth’.

Numbered Days (For Little Mammoths) concludes the album on a meta note, with gear in a van (‘guitars up with the snare’) to play a wedding and recording sessions where the drum sound needs fine-tuning (‘wait till there’s a crowd!’). Yet there’s melancholy because, Matt says, ‘I miss these things’.

This is the type of album that unfurls itself over multiple listens, as more lyrics poke out of the gruff delivery and the arrangements grow in sumptuousness through familiarity.

Samuel James Taylor – Wild Tales and Broken Hearts

From the city of Sheffield that brought us Pulp, Cabaret Voltaire and Arctic Monkeys, Samuel James Taylor came up as part of the band Dead Like Harry. In 2021 he headed to Nashville and went back to the singer/songwriters who had first made him pick up an instrument.

Wild Tales and Broken Hearts starts the album off with a sombre toe-tapper (‘love is your asylum’ is a fun lyric), sung from the back of the throat with gusto. A harmonica enters after the second chorus. Exquisite Pain sounds like the title of a Nine Inch Nails album and the song is a downbeat ditty where Samuel is asking a loved one what has changed. He asks someone, perhaps the same person, to ‘take a chance on our history and turn back time’ on the optimistic Through the Silence and the Half Light.

The ballads include I Kissed Your Sister by the Apple Tree (‘just keep your eyes on me’) and Churchville Avenue, a vignette with familiar chords and a warm vocal set in the former bedroom of a mystery addressee. Samuel concludes that ‘the past is just a trick’.

Musicality is excellent throughout. Virginia Girl (‘dance with the future in the palm of your hand’) and Rolling Thunder (‘the rain is falling heavy, it’s coming for me soon’) are both rhythmic and very hooky. There are some lush diminished chords on Faith, Hope and Fortune, a meditative singer/songwriter tune where our narrator is ‘still diving for pearls’, which seems like an obvious allusion to the song Shipbuilding, written by Elvis Costello.

Rage and Fight is a love song to someone who is ‘everything’, with a soupcon of harmonica underlining the passion Samuel feels. She is the Map of Love (as per the song’s title) and ‘everything that’s right’, while the melody of The Best Is Yet To Come is gossamer thin but holds up the world, ending on an unresolved chord.

Closing track Time May Dance is a meditation on getting old with a lovely middle section and plainly delivered lyrics. This is a fine tribute to singer/songwriters from the past and deserves to be heard.

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