By Don Henry Ford
(LSM June/July 2010/vol. 3 – issue 4)
I first heard Matt King on the radio, singing “American Dream.” I found it on an album called Rube, bought it, and was intrigued enough by what I’d heard to seek out a live show. I left impressed, exchanged a couple of e-mails with Matt and then met him in person. Shook his hand, looked into a real set of unwavering eyes, and pegged him strait away as an-honest-to-God Southern man.
I now call that man brother — a distinction that, however rare and sincerely given, unfortunately ain’t entirely a good thing. I call Matt a brother not just because we hit it off, but because he and I share quite the filial resemblance to each other when it comes to comparing our array of faults and flaws. These include, but are not limited to: anger management issues; a hero complex; addictive tendencies; a touch of arrogance that comes with first-born son status; and a propensity for violence that goes back quite a few generations and can boil to the surface with the slightest of provocations. We are products of rural Southern culture and all that entails. You just can’t wash this shit off with soap and water.
What gives Matt a chance and sets him apart from the rest is that he fights to overcome these natural tendencies and to do right by others, recognizing the faults of his people and his culture while at the same time loving those same people, the land and the good, honest, hardworking traditions the South engenders in its offspring. A handshake and a man’s word are worth more than a written contract in his world, and people don’t steal a neighbor’s stuff. All maintain a healthy distrust of government and authority figures. Passersby pick up stranded motorists, share with poor neighbors and firemen are non-paid volunteers. Yet some beat their wives and others may have family trees that don’t fork. And once in a while a wife kills her abusive husband or someone has an “accident,” but we don’t talk about such things in public and no one goes to jail over the matter. We take care of our own. Matt accurately depicts his world and records the struggles he has with it, not only his own but also those of an interesting array of friends and acquaintances he’s encountered over the years.
Matt hails from the mountain ranges of the Carolinas, a place where moonshiners and purveyors of illegal drugs abound, yet he no longer drinks alcohol. Not a drop. He doesn’t do dope either, but I’m guessing he did more than his share while he was a doin’. While a few less-than-noble preachers and maybe even a snake-oil salesman or two appear in his pedigree, Matt has found and studied unconventional ways of practicing spirituality, not for public consumption or approval, and applies the tools he’s found to his own life and his own way of doing things. I’d say his views on religion probably put him at odds with some of his own, but it’s not something he wears on his sleeve, so he has managed to survive. While racial and gender related prejudices are the norm among the white male community of the South, Matt treats people of differing backgrounds with a measure of respect. He’s has had his share of failed relationships, but he is married for the second time and making an honest go of it. He loves and respects his wife, a woman some would call a peace-lovin’, Austin-raised hippie chic. A hippie chic with a steady job, thanks be to the good Lord almighty.
Some say all men are created equal. Not I. Some are born with more. Whether that more becomes good or bad is not a given, but the fact remains that some have greater potential to do good or harm than the norm, and Matt is one of these. Call it a gift. Call it a curse. I call it undeniable. There’s a thin line between a war hero and a bank robber and most don’t have what it takes to do either. But some do.
You’d think a man with the courage to stand in front of a crowd and sing for a living would be an outgoing person. In Matt’s case, you’d be wrong. Getting information about his past or his family is akin to pulling teeth. To this day, he refuses to tell me how old he is. He has almost a Southern clan-like distrust of those asking questions, especially anyone outside his inner circle. Yet, at the same time, he’s quite interested in learning about the lives of others. Music and song, then, become Matt’s way of sharing experiences and teaching lessons learned from life, the medium in which he opens up to the rest of the world.
Matt has a rich, wonderful voice, well suited for acoustic songs of the traditional country genre. He spent quite a few years in Nashville trying to become a country singing star and I’m damned if I know why it didn’t happen. Maybe he was singing to the wrong state. Or the timing wasn’t right. Or he refused to pay homage to the right swinging dick. The music industry is a fickle bitch and I don’t always understand her ways.
But really, none of that matters now. Allow me to lift the veil: Matt is one of the best acts to come my way in the past couple of years. He’s handsome, smart, tough; a well-read, square-shooting, genuine country boy/mountain man. He writes intelligent, ass-kicking songs and marries them to an interesting array of modern and traditional sounds. He can do it live and he can do it in the studio. He can do it with an acoustic guitar, or a hard driving electrified band.
While the new has worn off of Rube with me, it still gets regular play in my house and never fails to deliver. It was one of three CDs I picked for album of the year last year. Matt’s currently re-releasing Rube, which for most will be the first time around. Believe me when I tell you, it belongs in your collection.
As I write these words, I’m listening to a new release called Raw, an 11-song collection of acoustic songs from Matt’s past that are incredibly good, of similar vein to Rube’s “American Dream.” If you like “American Dream” as much as I do, you’ll like these songs. It’s also a must-have CD for country music aficionados. And if the EP Matt recently produced with his new Texas-based band, the Cutters, is any indication of what the future holds in store, there’s more to come. All five tracks are great; the only reservation I have is that the songs are on an EP and should be part of a full-length CD. Hear that Matt?
Get out and catch Matt’s live show next time it comes around. Buy his CDs. When you like what you hear, and you’re going to like what you hear, spread the word.
Matt King has arrived.
Don Henry Ford Jr. is a former smuggler, convict, dope addict and “general no-good” turned cowboy, rancher, social activist, seeker of things spiritual and — when the spirit moves him — writer. By his own admission, he’s “still not so good, but aspiring to be.”