I’m a complete sucker for the great classic country albums of yesteryear, as you’re soon to find out, and I’m especially fond of when contemporary artists tip their hat to that era. But let’s be honest, there are the worthy efforts (Ryan Adams’ Jacksonville City Nights, the Everybodyfields, etc.) and the not-so-worthy (what’s coming out on your local country station?). As I’ll soon delve into, the strain of heartache and hard-living has woven it’s way through time in the American music landscape, from the post-slavery blues, to Woody Guthrie’s protest songs, to George Jones’ wrenching heartbreakers. It’s also particularly fascinating how the development of rock and roll was shaped by the movements of its “country” counterpart.
In steps Phosphorescent (aka Matthew Houck), the up-and-coming psych-Americana blueser with a poetic embrace of one of classic country’s, outlaw country’s, and America’s finest living legends, Willie Nelson. You could see hints of his appreciation for the genre in his last album, Pride‘s, “Cocaine Blues”. But this, truly, is a touch of magic, and an album that I’ve been looking forward to for some time. Houck’s slight and sudden quiver gives homage to Nelson’s vocal idiosyncracies, and his use of gentle harmonies gives the album a classic warm gospel feel. “Reasons To Quit” is the album’s swan song, and gives it a proper opening. A number of Nelson’s songs chosen for the album are given brand new arrangements while maintaining the feeling that you never step far from the bottle, and old memories. One of the more intriguing tracks is “Pick Up The Tempo”, which is one of my favorite Willie moments. While Houck’s version of the song is not my absolute favorite (that goes to Jerry Jeff Walker’s rendition, which is hard to touch), his gives an ironic, stark contrast to the idea of “picking up the tempo, and bringing it on home” but actually slowing it down and bringing the emotions of a singer-songwriter to the surface. Honor, through contrast. That sums up the album for me.