Album Review – Phosphorescent – To Willie (Dead Oceans)

Part of the appeal of the Texas Yoda is his ability to musically transform himself in ways that balance his musical curiosity with a foxes eye towards expanding his market. This allows him to be the steward of this own musical journey and makes him a beacon for artists that prefer to forge their own path.

Mathew Houck aka: Phosphorescent’s sound is similar to fellow alt.folk/slowcore solo-artists-using-revolving-bands-and-alias’-with-a-partiality-toward-heaps-of-facial-hair Will Oldham aka: Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Samual Beard aka: Iron and Wine, and actual bands like The Mountain Goats, Mark Kozelek’s Red House Painters and the man I consider the granddaddy of the genre Nick Drake. Sparse, somber and wistful these bedroom troubadour’s introspection borders on emotional honesty and precious self-indulgence.

With For Willie Houck leaves these other artists in the dust. The album is done, primarily, with a palpable love for Willie and his work. The album cover art obviously alludes to Willie’s own To Lefty from Willie but Houck displays self-aware humility by not including his name in the title.  The cuts dig deep into Willie’s back catalog to uncover gems rather than  well- known tunes. This is a smart move since it allows Houck some leverage for stylistic interpretation. But Houck is no deconstructionist and the soul of the songs remain intact. Too Sick To Pray features guitar reminiscent to will gut-string hillbilly jazz style and Walkin’ is a straight-up steel driven barroom weeper. Can I Sleep In Your Arms sounds shimmers like a rodeo-angel choir lament to lost love and The Last Thing I Needed (First Thing This Morning) beautifully exposes the melancholy heart beating within the song

The album’s sparse production is reminiscent of Willie’s own criminally underrated Spirit and Daniel Lanois produced Teatro. Willie has always been too innovative to fit in the Nashville country music straight-jacket and these works might have been what bought the attention of Houck  in the first place. I would like to hear Houck  do some originals in this style and perhaps he could tuen out to be the artistic bridge between Willie Nelson and the alt.folk/slowcore territory instead of just an adroit interpreter.

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