To compare Matt Pless to a modern-day Bob Dylan is not only cliche, but lacks so many elements Dylan did not have. Dylan may have been the voice of a generation, but he could never have rocked a better pair of bell bottoms than Pless. In addition, Dylan’s hair would have laid down flat after listening to one album of Pless’ charged blend of folk, punk rock and acoustic sing-along music.
Pless opens his latest album, “Catch Me If You Can,” with a punk rock anthem so strong it blows the fury back into folk music. The nearly six-minute barrage of issues with the status quo that is “When the Frayed Wind Blows” gives the listener plenty of reasons to get angry and make a change in the world while encouraging them to “question everything until you question why you should.” The song delivers the message of political action while hammering chords in a somewhat traditional “folk-punk” fashion that is quickly followed by examples of Pless’ wonderful picking melodies with “Bloodshot Baby Blues.”
While musicians love their instruments, only true troubadours love their tool enough to craft a song in homage to their partner in delivering the sound, and with “This Guitar,” Pless tells the many stories of his trusty Martin while using his mellow fingerpicking melodies. “One day this guitar is going down in history” shows that, while he has faith in his music, Pless never forgets that the guitar is actually where the sound and many of his stories begin.
Employing some elements of rockabilly, Pless brings in the aid of Valerie LaCerra for vocals and Joshua Lily for “Hang on Tight (and Let it Go),” which brings a rhythm break with a bright-sounding electric that perfectly brings together the couple’s vocal harmonies and adds a touch of old-timey flavor to a new tune. The dancey rock ‘n’ roll feel of the song is the perfect way to get into the second half of the album, which brings a few more serious feelings to the table.
Songs like “The Cigarette Song” and “Cinnamon and Honey” bring forth a traditional sound of upbeat folk music with a signature harmonica blast on “Cinnamon and Honey” between bouts of well-crafted lyrics of a hopeful musician looking for karma’s return. Hoping to never grab another smoke while coughing into the microphone at the end of the song well displays this artist’s ability to have fun while dealing with important issues, like going through the process of quitting an addiction.
Another hard-hitting song on the album, “Shots Fired,” brings fiery topics to light, such as police brutality, questions of war and political extremism, which bring out, yet again, another cry for action. The urgency and intensity of such songs demand attention. With a stern voice, Pless gets the listener in and paying attention to the issues around them, even if they have been blind to them before. The title itself infers a questionable phrase being dropped as a crowd of people, hand over mouth, gasps at the lyrics meant to both shock and wake up the sleeping masses.
While playful lyrics and gentle melodies fill the gaps in between the seriousness in “Catch Me if You Can,” the album captures the listener’s attention throughout the 12-song release and keeps them on their toes as the tempo and tone change after almost every song.
The album is well put together with talented displays of lyricism and fingerpicking that challenges the likes of Woody Guthrie himself. Pless’ use of drums on some of the songs enhances his message and brings out elements of the song often overlooked in the singer-songwriter world and adds a welcome musical element to those familiar with his previous solo works.
Dylan himself should be envious of the punk poet so many people say is channeling the ‘60s pioneer of popularizing folk.
This marks the first of a new music album review column in Tempo called “What’s Spinning?” by Jesse Moya. We hope you enjoy it and if music artists have a new recording being released and are interested in a review, let us know. Email Moya at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can’t guarantee we’ll review it, but if we have it in the player, it’s better than not.