My leg spazzed a little when Matthew Fowler began singing on "Leaving Home/Open Road," the opening track from his debut album Beginning. The dude is just barely old enough to buy cigarettes yet his voice expresses the hurt, love and experience achieved by those well on their way to the grave. Playing dramatic folk music rich in texture and vocal harmonies, Fowler began writing this album when he was 14, though at the time he didn't realize it would blossom into what you're listening to today. Hell, Fowler and friends didn't even have recording experience before this work; all recording took place in his family's kitchen.
Beginning is comprised of nine songs that explore topics such a loneliness and love. Whatever he sets his sights on, Fowler deals with them in a startlingly mature way. The acoustic solitude on "Blankets," for example, alludes to the addiction of love: "When I was young I fell in love/and I've been falling ever since/with a way to speak my mind/with broken English/and crooked rhymes." Other songs use simpler lines and arrangements, such as "Don't Change," which was written when Fowler was 14.
Fowler is not alone in his endeavors; friends and fellow musicians join him. Of particular note are Tana Prado and Adeline Prado, who create soaring vocal harmonies with Fowler. Pianists, trumpeters and stand-up bassists also make appearances to add color to the music. The arrangements are usually simple, but always effective. Each song is an exercise in how the sum can be greater than the whole, especially when the sum includes Fowler's guitar and his ridiculously expressive voice. I'm making myself paranoid by thinking there may have been some Faustian deal going on here.
With Beginning, Fowler introduces himself as a musician to be recognized. I maintain folk music is one of the hardest genres to breach nowadays, but this kid's got the chops, the backing and the voice to make his end as far as he wants. This album is recommended, especially if you're feeling uninspired.
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