Sunday, February 19, 2017

Matt Hannah – Dreamland

Matt Hannah – Dreamland 

The second studio album and sophomore full length from singer/songwriter Matt Hannah anchors his position as one of the best performers working in American roots music today. His songwriting transcends the narrow confines of genre thanks to its abiding melodic value and there’s enough of a varied approach over the course of the album’s ten songs that no listener can ever accuse him of taking a one-note or cookie cutter approach to recording an album. Dreamland has a powerful sensibility driving it as well. Hannah’s efforts to structure the songwriting in such a way that the work, as a whole, transforms into an often highly personal look into specific themes illustrating the considerable talents at Hannah’s disposal. Few songwriters are turning their hands towards something like this today. He might be predominantly a folk singer in approach, but Matt Hannah’s skills extend far past labels and hints at greater things to come. 

“Dreamland” is a fantastic beginning to the album. Like a poker player, Hannah isn’t interested in playing all his cards at once and the opener has a feeling of scene setting and holding things back. His acoustic playing is the indisputable star of this particular musical show, but there’s a weathered emotiveness surrounding Hannah’s voice that’s very effective on songs like this. The track “Broken Hearts & Broken Bones” has a little dark humor undercutting its blues, but others will hear it as enhancing a song that could, in lesser hands, sound like a recitation of woes born from self pity. Hannah, himself, seems to keep a semi-ironic distance from the track that enhances its darkly comedic effect. The blues coming through here is handled quite credibly. “Set Free” has a similar musical pedigree, but Hannah’s arrangement takes on those influences in a much different fashion. The song boasts a great guitar solo that never overreaches its boundaries and strengthens the performance as a whole thanks to its melodic flair. “The Night is My Home” is beautiful from beginning to end. The revolving, almost hypnotic, guitar figure never loses its charm and Hannah narrates this often scenic lyric with a lot of understated invention. There’s very little added adornment in this song and it is better as a result. 

The last part of the album brings things to a satisfying conclusion. “Different Kind of Light” uses keyboards in a colorful but very under the radar fashion and transitions from an acoustic guitar oriented beginning into a stylish electric guitar informed bit of singer/songwriting genius. The sustained note of pedal steel opening “Gone” kicks off the song and when the track shifts into full gear, the pedal steel guitar is joined by electric and acoustic guitars alike. This track has a brisk, but relaxed, pace and a strong bluesy influence. “Morning Song” finishes Matt Hannah’s second album with all of the introspection and consideration for the preceding experience that listeners might expect. It’s another delicately wrought acoustic guitar centered arrangement and Hannah delivers one of his more thoughtful vocals. Dreamland raises Hannah’s profile and standing a number of notches without ever veering far away from his core artistic strengths.  

9 out of 10 stars   

Scott Wigley

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