Matt Mays plays his guitar, not like a nimble fingered magician showing technical skill, but like a man swings a hammer. Riffs are full of purpose, not preciousness. Mays isn’t here to boast of conquest or ooze privilege, but to earn his living with each forceful impact and drop of sweat.
Far from clumsy, Mays is a craftsman, striking each nail with surprising accuracy and maximum velocity. Mays is building something permanent; sometime it feels like a wall, other times it feels like a home, but certainly structures are raised.
It’s easy to see a promo shot of Matt Mays sitting at the boards with his sunglasses and long hair and typecast the long time vet as yet another retro revivalist, but Mays is pushing for a return to Laurel Canyon or asking us to wade into any type of still water. Mays simply wants to remind us that records mean something, deserve the effort to be recorded well and should be played with passion.
Without question, Coyote is a rock record, one worthy of radio play, juke boxes and road trips but it’s not the tried and true influences that define the output. No, the biggest surprises are the consistency and execution. The sound is dense, bigger than Halifax although Mays would never demand such lofty praise (check the fantastic tip of the cap to Dave Marsh and the boys on “Stoned” and Dartmouth references on “Queen of Portland Street”). He stays in the pocket, and the listener reaps the rewards. Hooks soar. Ballads weep. Most importantly, audience sing-along.
Not to get all Marshall McLuhan, but Coyote is more about the medium than the message. Mays isn’t concerned with turning clever phrases or being too smart for his own good. No, the fifteen songs settle into the huge sounds and let Mays ponder love, heart ache and open roads. Done wrong, it’s cliche but in Matt’s more than capable hands, the connection is instantaneous.
Over the 49-minute run time, Mays proves above all, he’s a true professional not just a bar worthy everyman. Coyote is driven by surging guitars, but it’s more than brash, boozy licks; the slow moving album closer, “Chase The Light”, is the high water mark of Mays’ solo output to date. “Loveless” bends around Dale Murray’s pedal steel and floats on top of purring organ work. “Rochambo” sets out across oceans and finds Island rhythms and horns.
Even when Mays stumbles, like he does on the frantic “Madre Padre”, it’s not from lack of ambition, but maybe trying too much. Look, acts are lining up to borrow from the Boss and Petty these days, but Mays is one of the few artists willing to put in the work to mirror the same type of career arc and match their consistency. It’s hard to look at an artist with a back catalog as deep and successful as Mays and think of new beginnings, but Coyote, much like the mythical symbol the canine represents, feels like the birth of a new Canadian rock star.