By Angela Noel
November 17, 2016
Matthew French, whom you may remember from my very first blog post, recently released his second album, Winding Road. He asked me to listen to it, not because I’m a musician or qualified to critique his music the way a writer for Rolling Stone would, but because he was curious about how it would make me feel.
I think that’s the key to Matt’s music, actually. He’s not writing songs for those people OUT THERE. He’s writing for a few friends, who might be listening to his music sitting cross-legged on the carpet drinking wine from a mismatched set of tumblers someone found at a garage sale. In other words, me. And maybe you.
He’s not trying to impress anyone. He paid no attention to how long a song should be in case someone wanted to play it on the radio. The only thing he paid attention to was how the words and melody made him feel. He finished the song when it felt done, and the last note had been played– and not before. This won’t make him radio-friendly. This won’t help him get picked up by a big label muckety-muck. But, that’s just fine, better in fact. At least, for now, Matt’s still figuring this whole “being an artist thing” out. And he’s invited us along for the ride.
For example, Matt asks in “Chances:” “Are you a songwriter, when you ain’t got no song?/ Are you a lover when you’re sleeping alone?/Are you a dreamer, when you’re wide awake?” Matt leapt into becoming a singer-songwriter as a path towards understanding the emotions inherent in losing a relationship meant to last a lifetime. But his songs have now evolved to asking larger questions about what defines us. Or perhaps more importantly, what doesn’t define us.
Matt played an opening set at the Aster Cafe last Saturday night. As he tuned his guitar, he introduced his song, “It Ain’t Easy,” to the intimate crowd of around fifty people. “It’s about trying,” he said, “really trying to understand another person’s point of view.” Sipping a glass of wine, smelling the earthy richness of toasted pizza crust and whiskey, Matt’s words reminded me of the intense vulnerability I feel when I realize I’m wrong, or at least not 100% right.
Certainty feels good. It’s easy. But it’s also dangerous. “What we have to discover,” wrote Alan W. Watts in his 1951 book, The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety, “is that there is no safety, that seeking is painful, and that when we imagine that we have found it, we don’t like it.” Whether we’re arguing about who should have unloaded the dishwasher or who should be the leader of the free world, in the end the question isn’t who’s right or wrong, but who has the courage to see through the disagreement and find the common ground. Matt sings about this challenge in a low, melodic half-drawl, “It ain’t easy to forgive
yourself when you couldn’t find the strength to love someone else.”
“It Ain’t Easy” is the conversation you have with a good friend when you know you’re struggling but aren’t quite ready to move on. But “Just Getting Started,” the last song of the seven track record, is the message of a mentor, motivating us to move beyond the hard moment and get going again.”Enjoy the ride because you don’t know when it’s over. . ./Do more than your part/Never bet against your heart/This isn’t the end/We’re just getting started.”
I’m curious where Matt’s journey will take him. I’m curious where our collective journey will take us.
Sitting on a bar stool, I listened to Matt sing, then finish his set. I watched him shake hands with his fans, sip his whiskey and eventually make his way back to me and my date, Paul. The first thing Matt said to us was how amazing musician Josh Braun, who played the steel guitar during his set, was. Then he assured us we’d love Almighty American, coming on in just a few minutes. And, if we could stay a little longer, A Piano in Every Home was awesome, and a great group of guys.
I realized I didn’t come to see Matt play, I came to learn something new, to see the world through new eyes–Matt’s eyes.
Matt’s music is inextricable from Matt himself. His live performance, both on and off the stage, personifies the heart of what his music is about. Connection. Humanity. Hope.
How does Matt’s music make me feel? Good. Really, really good. Not because his music offers answers, but because he honors the questions.
Your turn: What helps open your eyes to new ideas?
Nashville influenced singer-songwriter Matthew French’s music and lyrics catch at the strings of hope hidden within heartache. Guitar in hand, coffee cup nearby; the melody transports and the words tell a story. Our story. A human story. Matthew’s audiences feel themselves reflected in the warmth of his voice. Not strangers, just unmet friends.
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