Matt Smith is a hell of a guitar player; his clean, jazzy chords and scorching lead lines were a hallmark of his bygone band The Betty Ford Experience. But he’s also a capable songwriter and balladeer.
What: Matthew Smith and Friends
Where: Conundrum Music Hall, 626 Meeting St.
When: Sunday, May 4, 7 p.m.
Price: $10 (includes CD), $5 under 16 (no CD)
More Info: conundrum.us
Acoustic ballads make up the entirety of the lo-fi Bedtime Stories. There’s an inviting hiss that evokes memories of Tascam four-tracks without dulling the brassy brightness of the acoustic guitars. It’s an effect that’s played up effectively on the dreamy title track, which layers jangly chords and winsome melodies over grainy snippets from what are either answering machines or late-night infomercials. The closing “Say Goodbye” works similarly, pairing a close-mic’d nylon-string guitar with roomy steel-string strums and a whispery vocal line. Other cuts are indebted to radio-ready but left-leaning pop from the late ’80s and early ’90s: “U & Luck” evokes Big Country with its ping-ponging delayed melody lines. “Long Lines” drifts lazily like The Sundays until its halftime coda — though the “First you rewind / Then you’re unkind” reference is egregiously dated.
As was the case with Betty Ford, Smith’s voice is a love-it-or-leave-it proposition; his quirky vocal mannerisms often assuaged by his songs’ kinetic energy. It hindered some of Betty Ford’s ballads, and it’s an occasional detriment on Stories. But there are times, as on “Say Goodbye” and the vampy “By the Fire,” when his charming earnestness supersedes his vocal limitations.
Bedtime Stories is a pleasant listen, but too many songs share similar chord progressions and drift to the same swaying tempos, giving an unfortunate sense of déjà vu to some of the disc’s second-half tracks (particularly “Words of a Song”). These modestly adorned cuts mostly sound like demos, sketches waiting to be filled in by other component players.
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