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article by: Michael Canter

22 September 2010

CD Review - "Waterproof Matches" by Mon Monarch

"...sensitive, introspective...inspired." -- NY Times

Release Date: 31 August 2010

Genre: Folk Rock/Modern Folk/Acoustic

Publisher: © Chuck E. Costa

Time: 42m 48s

Review Date: 22-September-2010

Format: MP3


Track Listing:

01. No Name 2:59
02. Answers 3:35
03. Battened Hatches 3:28
04. Restless Heart 3:28
05. Without Gravity 3:48
06. Pockets 2:27
07. In The Weeds 4:06
08. I Am Good Fortune 3:05
09. I Know Better 4:12
10. Gettysburg 3:14
11. Closer To The Sea 3:01
12. So Many Things 4:55

Mon Monarch is the creative collaboration of Chuck E. Costa, Eric Dawson Tate and Colin Meyer. Costa is an award-winning songwriter who has shared the stage with the likes of Rosanne Cash, The Weepies, Pete Seeger, Peter Case, Dar Williams, Josh Ritter, Richard Shindell and Andrew Bird to name a few. After a few years of making music together, the three headed to upstate New York and recorded "Waterproof Matches", their first recording collectively as Mon Monarch.

On first encounter with Mon Monarch's winningly understated debut, you might be forgiven for thinking that the elegant New Haven, Connecticut trio hails from Northern California, such is the bucolic, loving, laid-back, pastoral, softly swooning, indulging warmth of this recording. These are songs of well-penned subtlety. Because the band has a history there is depth, strength and maturity. Consummate musical intelligence, clarity of expression, fun and satisfying nuance and a real knack for simple, but beautifully elegant touches make "Waterproof Matches" an aurally pleasing album.

Often, as I have said in past reviews, folk singers, particularly acoustic folk singers, have a tough time distancing themselves from the artistic assemblage of their peers. However, there are exceptions, or rather, those that are wonderfully exceptional. When a song resonates in purity, simplicity and enough soul to make you believe, well, that's distinctive. And when Chuck E. Costa strums his trusty acoustic on the intro of "I Know Better" and then starts singing, well, you are willing to sit down and let the man speak.

"In The Weeds" is a similarly great number, and is easily the paciest track on the album. Well-crafted with pleasurable soundscapes and impeccable instrumentation, "Weeds" is more of a rootsy, country-shuffle. Here, Costa manifests himself lyrically in a mood that questions the balance between innocent optimism and pragmatic apathy. What makes this song stand out, however, is its spell-binding breaks that segue flawlessly into deliberately accentuated electric/acoustic guitar interplay.

Costa's singing is so impressive at times on this album that it becomes hard to ruminate on what's being sung. Yet the lyrics, where they seep through the structure of songs as in "Answers," hint at a transcendental link between music and life.

"The shots they go down like little lonely waterfalls
Running all the way down to the last call
And I apologize I never talk this much
Must be the alcohol
The joyful call the doctor says, 'the cancer is benign.'
But then again in the end we’re all condemned to die
But then again we’re energy, which will not be destroyed or multiplied."

Mixing the foundations of Philosophy 101 with a few shots of alcohol is normally a recipe for a song that screams of despair and hopelessness. Not so here. The band amalgamates a buoyant arrangement with strategic tempo changes and lively percussion to magnificently counter the subject matter..... Still, there's no way to miss the ironic defiance of the song.

Personal note: I am a bit of a Civil War buff, so I absolutely love the song "Gettysburg". Like "Answers", Costa refers to the shortsightedness of not being able to see the forest for the trees.

For most American Folk music, the common denominator is that when you head out to hear it live, you typically get exactly what you would expect: acoustic, spare and unadulterated music. Too often, the same music that has been honed and perfected in the Village caf├ęs and dive bars is carried into the studio where it suddenly becomes beefed up into some sort of pseudo-pop intermix of session guitarists, gaudy arrangements and unimaginative overproduction that alienates the folk-music fans. Costa, Tate and Meyer have managed to keep the sound on this album true to its genre, combining smoky vocals with evocative songwriting and brilliantly understated instrumentation. Is it a perfect record? No, but it is very, very close. If I had one minor issue, it would be that "Pockets" seems a little too anthemic in comparison with the other eleven songs. It probably plays great in live settings, and it is not a bad song by any means, but seems a little out of place here.

In short: "Waterproof Matches" is a tender, nearly flawless record that should be added to your collection and requires thorough investigation at your next convenience.

Website: http://www.monmonarch.com

You can purchase a limited digital pre-release here: http://share.monmonarch.com/

1 comment:

Mixtape Jones said...

Fantastic review, Mike.