Mar 20, 2013 Web Exclusive
While Matthew Houck would not be strictly classified as a country musician, he's taken a wonderful lesson from country about range of emotion. Muchacho, his latest album, swings from heartbroken to celebratory and back again, sometimes within one song. There are the yelps of joy or surprise that adorn "Ride On/Right On," the title a mixed message all on its own. There's the barroom lament "Down to Go," with its drunken horns. "Muchacho's Tune" manages to feel both remorseful and eminently hopeful: "But like the shepherd to the lamb/Like the wave onto the sand/Fix myself up/Come and be with you."
Since Muchacho opens with "Sun Arise! (An Invocation, An Introduction)" and ends with "Sun's Arising (A Koan, An Exit)," it's not a secret that it's meant to be seen as a singular work. The purposeful construction and execution is not only a rare commodity, it's of rare quality in Houck's hands. This structure is strong but not overbearing; it doesn't feel blatantly organized to replicate the structure of a novel or a film, but that's exactly what it does.
Muchacho uses "A Charm/A Blade" as the mass around which the rest of the record orbits. The song, in its nearly five and a half minutes, runs the gamut from the patient opening to the mumbled, "This can't be what you want," which leads into the explosive chorus. Because of the sophistication of the rest of the lyrics, a simple couple of lines, "Cut my heart but do it fast/Don't want that hurt to last" end up with tremendous power. It might be the best thing in Phosphorescent's enviable catalog.
Houck's career should be viewed as a blueprint for young songwriters in how to grow with each recording. As his songs have grown more complex, they've also become more focused. No matter what happens to Phosphorescent from here on out, Muchacho is an artist setting a new standard. (www.phosphorescent.com)
Author rating: 8/10
Average reader rating: 8/10