I know you can’t help
That your smile is the brightest
It’s hard to look away
That (almost) haiku that opens Big Inner, the debut release for Richmond, VA band leader, composer, and beard enthusiast, Matthew E. White. The beard thing is, of course, a joke, but the rest is serious business. Founder and composer for the Richmond collective, Fight The Big Bull, Smith has stepped out in front with this album and may find that people won’t want him to simply direct from behind anymore.
Those lyrics kick off the slow swaying opening cut, “One Of These Days” which seems, at first, to be a simple soul number. When White begins humming what may be the second half of the verse, one might mistakenly think he’s already out of ideas. But then the horns swell into the mix, the refrain comes along and dammit if there isn’t a haunting choir on the bridge. Before the tune ends there’s even some strings.
Deceptively simple might be the trademark of this album. Judicious mixing keeps so much at bay that would probably overwhelm a listener if White simply pushed up the faders. This is true of many albums but, on Big Inner, many of the tracks are busting at the seams with horns, strings, an excellent rhythm section, straight ahead soul backing vocals, a full on choir and more. “Big Love” pushes more of these out front as the driving tempo is built to carry the bombast. It starts with a (baritone?) sax bleating in the distance before the groove engages and is followed by White’s soft spoken vocals. Two minutes in, the cut reaches the feverish pitch of backing vocals, strings, and hand claps that is the refrain. Then comes the break down. White is smooth and convincing as he declares:
Girl, I am a barracuda
I am a hurricane
I believe this sort of thing used to be called “blue-eyed soul”. I don’t know what color White’s eyes may be but he’s definitely got some soul. His voice breaks slightly as he sings “Darkness can’t drive out darkness. Only love can do that,” on Jimmy Cliff’s “Will You Love Me.” And, as the band rises up behind him, you know that the vocals are sincere. Continue reading