Matty T Wall ‘Sidewinder’ Album Review

Matty T Wall, a native of Perth, Australia, makes a forceful return with his new ambitious release entitled Sidewinder on Hipsterdumpster Records. Following the critical and commercial worldwide success of his 2016 debut Blue Skies, the abundantly endowed emerging guitarist, vocalist, songwriter and front-man offers up a heavy duty blues/rock array with a dozen songs, eight of which are self-penned originals. It’s always a delight to see an artist, or group, triumph in their combat against the dreaded sophomore jinx. That is definitely the case here. An illustration of the supremacy Matty T Wall attained with Blue Skies: it was selected as one of only seven releases nominated as Best Contemporary Blues Album in The Independent Blues Awards 2017.

“Growing up, I was always enveloped by late sixties Blues influenced groups through my father’s record collection. Eric Clapton, Cream, Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Led Zeppelin, etc. But, it wasn’t until I heard Gary Moore’s Still Got The Blues album that I stood up and took notice of blues music and the power and energy it can convey.” ~ Matty T Wall

The rhythm section, consisting of Stephen Walker on bass guitar and Ric Whittle manning the drum kit and percussion, is tight as a tourniquet throughout Sidewinder. Walker’s low-pitched bass also was a presence on Blue Skies and, although youthful, he has plenty of skilled experience within multiple genres and styles of music and provides a proficient musical anchor. Walker also contributes background vocal assistance on occasion. Whittle is a 3rd generation drummer who can pull off the loud and powerful numbers with aplomb, while also managing to portray the more subtle material with technical poise. Keyboardist Gordon Cant, who also appeared on Wall’s debut recording, brandishes a level of chemistry with Matty and the group that is keenly tangible on the songs in which he is included. 

Another key ingredient in the persuasive sound of Sidewinder is the sophisticated hand of near-legendary Bob Clearmountain upon the album’s mix. The Rolling Stones Tattoo You, Roxy Music Avalon, Bruce Springsteen Born In The USA, and three albums for the Australiangroup Crowded House are examples of the many masterful mixes residing in his resume. My favorite Bob Clearmountain mix was on The Rolling Stones “Out Of Tears” remix edit that is simply magnificent.  Clearmountain’s decades of experience and his track record speak for themselves, and it is well evident in the tidy separation achieved on this release.

It is always a wise gambit to have a keystone track lead off an album and capture the listener’s attention from the get-go. This opening track, “Slideride,” is a Wall instrumental composition that detonates the album in ultra-fine energetic style; igniting a fire that keeps on burning. Matty’s high-voltage glass bottle-neck slide guitar glides along like a Formula One racecar deftly taking the sharp turns at breakneck speed. Gordon Cant throws in some stormy organ while Steve Seville interjects a taste of some brass ornamentation to the fierce driving rhythm. I have always loved instrumentals; and this one is a towering success.

The title track follows, and on “Sidewinder” Matty T Wall exhibits a cock-sure bad boy attitude on his vocal. The lyrics remind me of Muddy Waters “Mannish Boy” in that he sinisterly tells the gal “I’ll give you what you need baby, anything you want at all, you know you can trust me,” before later revealing “I’m a sidewinder….. ha ha sucker!” His guitar spews rock-laced radical riffs that merge a discriminate touch of the refined with the untamed. Jackhammer drums and clashing cymbals assist in ensuring the track scalds and cooks like the mid-day August sun. This is hard rocking, take-no-prisoners music, that is relentless in its raw intensity.

I am pretty much self-taught on the guitar; although I got some basics as a kid from my grandmother who was a virtuoso on violin.” ~ Matty T Wall 

The album art by Rachel Walker of New Zealand is also most interesting. It is titled “Snakes” and there has to be at least one sidewinder in the entangled rhumba of snakes depicted. Someone, Matty perhaps, is looking thru the hazy maze as birds in flight are pictured above with the color palette a pleasing blend of reds, greens and yellows. Daniel McBride took her original painting and then refined the graphic design to turn it into the Sidewinder cover.

Matty and his posse switch gears a bit, downshifting for a rendition of “Something Beautiful” from the New Orleans young lion Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews. Matty’s vocal is exceedingly infectious, in part due to the repetitious double entendre lyric of “show me something beautiful.” But essentially the contagious nature is due to his ability to “hit the high notes” on the chorus with a soulful pizazz. Matty’s foot drills the wah-wah effects pedal like a workout regimen and shows skillful taste. The multi-versatile Deleyse “Deli” Rowe is utilized in fine fashion on her background vocal, and Walker’s bass is prominent in the mix. Both of those factors enhance the performance. This one is guaranteed to grow on you with each listen.

Wall then gifts the listener with his reverent cover of the ever-soulful Sam Cooke’s famous posthumous release. The song, which was a standard of the civil rights protest in America, is “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Cooke was moved to write the song after hearing Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind.” Fifty-some odd years later the song remains relevant and has been covered by a who’s who of artists over the years. Wall lingers close in tempo to Cooke’s rendition as he pays his tribute to the singer/songwriter who suffered a tragic death. Although nobody who has attempted a cover of the song over the years, in my opinion, has matched Sam Cooke’s gospel-trained satiny-smooth vocal, when the time arrives for Wall’s guitar to solo, it elevates the song to heavenly heights. The strings imparted by Jonas Peterson aren’t magnified to extreme, but instead add a tender touch and definitely do effectively pull at the heartstrings at the songs beginning, and most admirably near the songs conclusion.      

A Matty T Wall composition entitled “Can’t Stop Thinking” finds the entire ensemble bringing to mind some vintage Deep Purple. I would wager a guess that Gordon Cant on organ has listened to his fair share of Jon Lord. Wall builds upon a recurring guitar riff that leads into some very interesting improvisational play in a way similar to what Richie Blackmore did back in the day. Deep Purple did play with an orchestra on occasion, so a minor touch of horn work augments the song suitably. Matty provides a whispered soul-tinged vocal that shows his flexibility, and the lyrics complete the equation. These lyrics play on the venerable blues theme built around a lost love that really messed up his mind. He can’t sleep, he tries liquor and pills, and still can’t stop thinking about her. At the end he finally comes to the realization that it is time to move on and find another; despite her being the best love he ever had.

“Shake It” is a pulse-quickening rock-boogie similar in theme to Elmore James’ “Shake Your Money Maker.” Or perhaps, Charlie Patton’s “Shake It and Break It.” It could also be a tribute to the one and only John Lee Hooker, the King of the Boogie. Regardless, it is dynamic, and yet another one that will blow the roof off when played in concert. Wall reiterates “shake it ‘til you break it” and leaves the interpretation up to the listener. Matty’s guitar blisters like a young Alvin Lee, and his vocal contains, at times, a slight reverb as Walker adds some background vocals. The rhythm section goes old-school rockabilly, in a similar vein to Stray Cats, with tom-toms and even a tad of cow-bell thrown in for good measure.                                                                               

Another legendary songwriter that Matty selects to cover is Don Nix with Nix’s classic blues “Goin’ Down.”  This is another song, when performed live, is sure to get an audience up on their feet. Previous interpretations of the song have been realized by such greats as Freddie King, John Lee Hooker, Savoy Brown, Luther Allison, Peter Green Splinter Group, The Jeff Beck Group, S.R.V. and Double Trouble, Leslie West, and Beth Hart leading a star lineup including Jeff Beck at Eric Clapton’s 2013 Crossroads Guitar Festival, and of course Don Nix himself with Brian May of Queen doing the guitar honors. Freddie King’s version, on which Don Nix handled production for Shelter Records (Leon Russell’s label) is probably the best known. King also released it as a single; on the “A” side with his own “Torn Down” on the “B” side. My favorite treatment of the song is possibly The Jeff Beck Group largely due to Cozy Powell’s manic drum-work. A side note; Jeff Beck while in the short-lived super-group Beck, Bogert & Appice covered two other Don Nix penned songs on their self-titled release. That release, in my mind, serves as a primer for how a power trio should efficiently operate. Matty T Wall is again somewhat reminiscent of a young bluesy Alvin Lee with his speed and guitar pyrotechnics as the group wails away for approximately four minutes as they give a slamming vibrant tough-as-nails performance. Very nice work by the entire ensemble on this song that surely must be as explosive as TNT at his live shows where they can stretch it out further. Wall acquits himself very well against the above referenced renowned guitarists — as my ole’ uncle used to say “If you can’t run with the big dogs, stay under the porch.” Matty T Wall is running with the big dogs here.

“Blues has to be honest and totally direct in delivery. It has to cut straight to the heart of emotion.” ~ Matty T Wall

My favorite Matty T Wall written song on Sidewinder, by a photo finish, is titled“Ain’t That the Truth.” Some of the songs on Sidewinder are rough-edged, but this one is polished to a brilliant sheen. Wall sings with an earnest soulfulness and his guitar play is glitteringly sublime, crisp and clean. Deli Rowe appears again, and is a perfect accompaniment for Wall’s lead vocal. Wall’s vocal is a thing of beautiful veracity; comparable to Todd Rundgren or Lindsey Buckingham. The drum work gives the impression of brush work, and the bass and auxiliary keyboards are first rate also. The lyrics portray the fact that everyone in their life comes to a crossroad which causes anxiety because change can be a scary thing. Wall has mastered the art of writing the near-perfect four minute song. An example of his lyrical acuity: “Another day the sun goes down/I’m tired and I’m breaking down/had enough of this angry town/No one cares enough to keep you around.”

“Aint That The Truth” really is a ‘small town’ song. Perth is a small town (small city actually), and things seem to happen for the better when you leave a small town. But, you have the frustration that the small town is your home; so there is a bit of angst in the lyrics for this one. Sometimes small towns can be a bit close-minded. This song is really meant to be primarily about the lyrics/melody/story and the vocal performance.” ~ Matty T Wall  

Matty’s guitar gushes hot Texan style electric-blues with a Stevie Ray Vaughn, Billy Gibbons, or Boz Scaggs guitar swagger on “Walk Out The Door.” Matty flexes his muscles on his axe while the rhythm section hints at modern day rockabilly, and the results are fine as frog’s hair. Matty’s vocal is delivered with a confident cock-sure bad-boy stance. Telling the girl in no uncertain terms to walk out the door (of their relationship) because he doesn’t want her, and her emotional baggage dragging him down. This song is my second favorite on Sidewinder at the moment.

Wall displays his tender vocal side on his “Leave It All Behind.” The gentle acoustic song contains some dire lyrics that belie the gently mellow melody. The lyrics speak of corporate greed and racial hate being the driving wheel behind a lot of the world decisions. There is no lyric sheet, but I believe the words read: “It’s funny how we care when those around us fall/and somehow we don’t matter/even still our leaders don’t or won’t pretend to know/you know it’s just the latter. People dying on the streets and in their homes/while somebody makes a dollar/ millennia will come millennia will go/and we might still be at square one.” As he sings he softly strums his acoustic guitar as if playing a lullaby. Then near the end of the song the melody becomes edgier, before it abruptly concludes with a final strong strum on all six strings.

Sidewinder is a boundless album from a talented road-honed musician who has consolidated a myriad of musical influences into a highly stimulating listening jamboree. Wall consistently displays notable craftsmanship on his guitar, his vocals, and his songwriting. The album is an embodiment of all three of those attributes. Matty T Wall is blessed with notable flair and musical instincts that, in my opinion, will continue to blossom bringing forth some very tasty musical fruit in the future.