When it comes to promoting East Coast acts, there aren’t many people working harder than Matt Charlton (well, except us of course). I remember when herohill first started getting emails from his PR firm – efficient, easy to download snippets without any of the glowing hyberbole that plagues not only music PR people, but bloggers as well – and I assumed Matt was just a guy that loved music and wanted to find a way to make a living from it.
Now, a year or so later his roster has grown and he’s helping acts get outside the Maritimes and get heard by a bigger audience, but it’s his song writing that really grabs my attention. I had no idea he even played until last year’s Halifax Pop Explosion when he opened for The Retribution Gospel Choir. That night, he stood on stage – well, on the slightly raised floor of St. Matthew’s Church – with some of Nova Scotia’s most talented artists (Daniel Ledwell, Christina Martin, John Mullane, Andrew Sisk to name a few) and let his voice and melodies boom out the open front door and onto the street. Since that night, I’ve been harassing him about getting off his ass and releasing the debut Prospectors Union record.
Well, that day is getting very, very close.
Matt finally finished recording Syracuse and is ready to release it to the world. Although Charlton may listen to a collection of stripped down, no nonsense artists (Townes, Mark Kozalek) this “home” recording is remarkably lush and defined. With support from the likes of Martin, Ledwell, Mullane, Sisk, Jason MacIsaac, Kinley Dowling, and David Casey, Syracuse plays more like a studio odyssey than a local, independent release.
more importantly, even with all the expert production and contributors, Charlton puts himself front and centre. With only a few picked notes, echoing subtle drums and Christina Martin’s harmonies, Flaming Death is dark, but engaging. Over time, Ledwell’s steel work and MacIssac’s atmospheric keys are added and echo in the emptiness of the song, taking some of the weight off the harrowing tale, but it’s Charlton’s voice that grabs your ear. Even with the talent that surrounds him and the layers that move in and out of the song, he never fades to the background.
The same can be said about the confident strums of Storm Seas. Charlton shows he’s a natural story teller. The song could have easily stood on his strong foundation, but slowly the band adds group harmonies that hover in the distance. It might not seem like much, but the vocal support makes this more than a coffee/shop open mic song and even though it’s only a hiccup longer than 1:30, Storm Seas says as much about the recording as any of the tracks. It’s well thought out, shows how comfortable the musicians are around each other, and that Charlton isn’t a fan of wasted notes.
Dowling’s ear grabbing strings, Martin’s backing vocals are thickened up by nice drums and keys, but again, it’s Charlton taking the lead on the EP’s catchiest track, Montreal. Matt may prefers the tale of the brokenhearted wanderer, but unlike so many young songwriters, he doesn’t let his melancholy dictate the tempo of an affair. Montreal shifts and moves, and the spike in pace lets you relax as the band downshifts into slower tracks.
One thing I really like about this EP was how much restraint the all-star backing band displays. On the closer, The Valley Neighbours, the song is beefed up with slide, harmonies, keys, keep time drums and a choral outro all make an appearance, but none of the layers ever crowd the mix or distract from the melody. The song would work just as well – and does in a live setting – with an acoustic and a second mic. It’s obvious that Charlton can’t pack most of these people in a van every time he wants to play a show, so it’s crucial that the structure of the songs lets him grab a guitar and play alone OR treat the audience to a hybrid of the supergroup he assembled for the EP.
The EP release show is July 18th/09 @ The Seahorse. I’d wager it will be packed with friends of Matt’s coming out to say congrats and there will be more than a few guest appearances. I’d highly suggest you make it out too.
But as a special treat for herohill, Charlton grabbed a few friends and recorded a live EP and is letting us give it away to you readers. The four songs show a rougher side of the band’s persona; one more concerned with smiles, wine and a night of music than intricate production. They still toss around strings, horns and terrific harmonies, but they feel more spontaneous and alive.
Without question, Old Wonders is a different beast; from the poppy feel of Edmunston, to the roots rocking, earthy vibe of More Tales Involving a Man of Questionable Morals or the back porch feel of Raven’s Claw, the songs stand up without any of the glossy efforts of a classic studio recording. Ledwell lets less be more and Charlton shows he’s got a lot of bullets left in his gun – plus, Jason’s keys and Dan’s trumpet just make you melt – and Prospectors Union is a name we will all hear a lot more off in the near future.