Make no mistake – Matty Wall is an extraordinary talent and deserves a massive amount of recognition for this terrific album. It’s blues rock, but it shimmers with passion, originality and top-notch musicianship. The combination of Wall’s artistry, his excellent band and legendary Grammy-winning producer-engineer, Bob Clearmountain, who has worked with Springsteen, the Stones, Bryan Adams, Bon Jovi and many other top artists, has resulted in one of the best blues related albums we’ve heard this year.
Down at the Crossroads was impressed with Wall’s 2016 offering, Blue Skies, but Sidewinder is even better. There are twelve songs, eight original Matty Wall compositions and four covers. Let’s start with the four covers.
It’s hugely ambitious to take on such an iconic and hopeful civil rights anthem as Sam Cooke’s Change is Gonna Come – what can you add to Sam Cooke’s version? But Wall handles the vocals beautifully. The whole arrangement, with strings and organ filling out the sound wonderfully here and there, and some very tasteful guitar licks, keeps the essential longing of the song. And the guitar solo – crisp and dry, and oh so yearning – complements the rest of the arrangement to perfection. Wall pulls it off – in spades.
Trombone Shorty’s Something Beautiful features Wall’s expressive singing, backed by the excellent Deli Rowe, over a persistent bass riff and then some taut guitar work. And then we get Don Nix’s Going Down (which has been recorded or performed by a veritable who’s who of luminaries in the blues rock world: Freddie King, Deep Purple, J J Cale, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Walter Trout, Joe Bonamassa and many others). Wall’s version is simply terrific. He keeps the heavy blues-rock vibe, and gives us some blistering guitar solo work, in the midst of a band that’s as tight as get out.
I was very interested to see what Wall and Clearmountain had done with Chris Thomas King’s hip-hop blues song Mississippi Kkkrossroads. The track starts off with the evocative sounds of police siren and hunting dogs before a heavy percussive beat and Wall’s growling vocals. The horns blasting in during the chorus give a menacing feel to the song, the anger and danger of Thomas’s original powerful expose of racism and lynching palpable.
With Wall’s guitar imitating a revving motorcycle, we’re up and roaring down the blues rock highway with Slideride, a hugely enjoyable, two minute instrumental that sets the tone for the rest of this outstanding album. Suddenly we’re into the title track, Sidewinder, with the soft top down, the sun blazing and the wind in our hair. Each of Wall’s tracks are clearly blues rock, but are much more than the same old, same old we so often get in this territory, with simplistic verses and simplistic lyrics punctuated by fearsome guitar solos. These are much more nuanced songs with some considerable sophistication about them, brought to life by the superb musicianship and the top-notch arrangements and production. Yes, there are fabulous guitar solos but there is variety, intelligence and musicality here. And by including Change is Gonna Come and Mississippi Kkkrossroads, Wall shows he isn’t afraid to comment on the racism that is still endemic in the world. (Next time we might get one or two topical originals?)
And Matty T Wall can sing too. He’s a huge talent – songwriter, sublime guitarist and a singer who can sing sweetly or with grit.
We get into more jazzy territory with Ain’t That The Truth, with Wall’s fine vocals caressing us along with some sweet backing vocals. Leave It All is a very fine acoustic number with some thoughtful lyrics: “People dying on the streets…while someone makes a dollar – kinda makes you want to leave it all behind.” Sophie’s Strut is another instrumental with some dirty sounding guitar showing off Wall’s considerable fretboard agility.
A fabulously entertaining album, showcasing a major talent. Enjoy for now and look forward to more in the future.