By Ellen Eldridge
Every once in a while the perfect storm of melody, emotion and timing collides with a listener in an unexpected way. Finding a new artist or a new album to truly fall in love with doesn’t happen every week, but something about stumbling across Matthew Perryman Jones’ Land of the Living resurrects an inner spirit and faith in music. Not that the music is terribly “original” or the sort of thing fans of groups like Band of Horses or even The Cure couldn’t collapse into on a bad day or use as the soundtrack to a summer road trip, but these songs stand out with passion behind the riffs and inside the building vocal crescendos in the same way that struck me when I fell in love with The Cure and Band of Horses.
What Land of the Living does best is introduces the new energy of Matthew Perryman Jones – and artist who has been around for awhile, but yet some may not yet know. While some of the squealing guitars in “Poisoning the Wells” may bring a depressed tone tapped by rising anxiety, the temperance of the vocals in songs like “Won’t Let You Down Again” keep Land of the Living from sliding too closely into the territory of Morrissey. I hesitate in making comparisons because the ones I feel would be closest land around targets that don’t resonate as well as Jones’ work does. This may well be entirely personal; the fact that I spend most of my time listening closely to poetic lyrics wrapped tightly around accompanying instrumentation means that, for me, an artist has to hit those nerves with both the music and the lyrics. The storm surrounds as the drums thunder and the vocals rain down – that is what Jones does well. Nothing that certain albums by Ryan Adams or hasn’t done, but this is new. It’s a worthy contribution to an over-saturated music scene.
Lyrically, Jones does his poetry well. In “Sleeping with a Stranger,” Jones hits the highest part of his range as he sings “Oh, kiss my heart awake. We’re so far away. I’m sleeping with a stranger.” Reading the lines doesn’t do the presentation justice. One of my favorite paragraphs/verses/stanzas exists in “Keep It on the Inside” and calls out to the life of a touring musician: “I’ve been living like a ghost in a cage of steel with the gate wide open on a battlefield.” The wonderful description easily depicts a steel stage facing the crowd, and even locally touring musicians can identify with the feeling of living like a ghost when so much time in preparation and traveling allows for just that brief time in front of the fans where the energy flows back and forth – it’s just enough to keep going.
There comes a time in every man’s life when he must question the principles of his culture, his community, and his ancestors. Some may ignore the questions, while others, particularly artists, wrestle with them until something new and lasting is formed from the struggle. Shortly written after the death of his father, Matthew Perryman Jones’ latest record, Land of the Living is a courageous personal Odyssey through life’s most troubled waters of love and loss, and communicates the process by which we grieve, and the fight to find restored hope. Land of the Living is an intense wringing of words, emotions, and melody from the rags of Jones’ solitude, but are an account of his truth found in the pain. Fans of mellow music inspired by the sounds of strings and the subtle allusion to hope should give Matthew Perryman Jones a listen. Land of the Living acts as a metaphor for finding new music that will not disappoint. Visit http://www.mpjmusic.com/ and come out to The Loft on June 22 for the show.