Photography: Aaron McManus / ampix.co.uk

MATTHEW E. WHITE

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  • Lisa O’Neil
Harvest Sun @ Leaf 18/4/15

The upstairs room at Leaf fills slowly as LISA O’NEILL takes to the stage in support of the welcome return to Liverpool of MATTHEW E. WHITE. While the crowd appear to be in something of a chatty mood, she carries her diminutive self through some great material, a blend of Americana and Irish folk, inspired by her home town of Wexford. She reveals a touch of the ‘divil’ in her as she treats the quickly assembling throng to songs like Dreaming, Everything Is Free, and the magnificent Elvis, I Give You Irish Stew, which is basically a song about, well…you do the math. It’s a great end to an engaging set, and we look forward to more of O’Neill’s acoustic shenanigans in the future.

In the run-up to this show, I possibly wasn’t the only one to ponder how Matthew E. White would manage to fit the cast of new LP Fresh Blood onto the relatively cramped confines of Leaf’s stage. We have a big album here, with big sounds from a big band. Gospel backing vocals sit comfortably on top of soulful electronic pianos and alongside string and brass sections. All take their rightful place to complete the majestic sound of this fine follow-up to 2012’s Big Inner. The answer was simple. He just left all that back home in Virginia, and stripped the whole band down to himself on guitar and vocals, a lead guitar, bass and drums.

Any worries about how this would affect the new songs were allayed pretty much from the off. Dressed in matching suit jackets and suits, looking for all the world like a late-60s dapper US college band at a frat party, they greet the crowd with a hearty rock yelp or two, and are immediately enjoying the freedom that’s been gifted to them by White’s insistence on this line-up. Though White’s often softly spoken soul vocals get lost in the mix for much of the first part of the show, the sound of this tight band of brothers is at times stunning, and suits songs like Rock And Roll Is Cold perfectly. Occasionally, some of this distorted blues-ridden set feels like they’re just jamming the songs out, and allowing them to find their own way; whatever, it works.

There are several standout songs here this evening, not least Feeling Good Is Good Enough, the summery and laconic Fruit Trees, and the final song from the album, the magnificent Love Is Deep which, as with Big Love, builds into a blissed-out and funked-up guitar overload of massive proportions, ending with an encore of Holy Moly angst. Holy moly indeed, Matthew. So, while nobody expected such a set, delivered in such a way, with such a sound, we’re sure glad we got it. After the gig, I had a quick word to thank White for tonight’s show. His response: “That shit was a blast, man.” He sure got that right.

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