Matthew E White

Review of Matthew E White at The Sage Gateshead, 17th April 2015

The evangelical son of missionary parents from Richmond, Virginia, Matthew E White professed to want to ‘make religion fashionable in white music again’ when he emerged as a rising star of the Americana scene in 2013. And his audiences during his first headline tour were often reminded with repetition and force that ‘Jesus Christ is our Lord/Jesus Christ is your friend’ during regular closing song Brazos, from the highly acclaimed debut album Big Inner.

Almost two years later, White is on the road again promoting new album Fresh Blood. Although Jesus is still there, putting his arms around us in ‘Circle ‘Round The Sun’, themes including the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman (Tranquilly) and child sex abuse in the Catholic church (Holy Moly) give a clear indication that this time around, White has been willing to step out of his comfort zone and confront the more sinister spectres of his imagination.

White and his stripped back entourage of Cameron Ralston (bass), Pinson Chanselle (drums) and Alan Parker (guitar), were able to expertly deliver a dozen well crafted tracks from the often complexly arranged Fresh Blood, as a well as a few ‘oldies’ from Big Inner.  Even without the brass and keys which are present in abundance on both records, the songs still had a wholeness about them; nothing seemed desperately missing from the arrangements.

White always reminds me of the ‘Big Lebowski’; a giant hirsute man with a big heart and soft voice that immediately puts you at ease. He’s a bit goofy at first too, singing about ‘pumpin’ fresh blood for ya’ in opening track ‘Take Care My Baby’ before telling us that ‘love’ is really  ‘deep shit.’  The funky ‘Big Love’ has Ralston’s impossibly fast and driving bass line laying the foundations for White’s at first whispered tones, gradually building into the husky vocalised chorus.

Other songs from Big Inner on the night included ‘One of These Days’ and ‘Steady Pace’, but most of the evening was dedicated to the new and arguably stronger material. Fresh Blood, as White tells us, is something of great pride to him and his record label, Spacebomb, which has already had another major success this year – the White / Spacebomb produced Natalie Prass eponymous debut album has been receiving world-wide praise.

Understandably, White is brimming with confidence as he storms through ‘Feeling Good Is Good Enough’ and the T-Rex-esque ‘Rock & Roll Is Cold.’ ‘Fruit Trees’ again brings some new stylistic nuances to the fore but it is the brooding, building closer, ‘Holy Moly’, which really forces home that this is a performer who is quickly coming out of his shell as the reluctant front man to share some very powerful and poignant messages.

*A version of this article originally appeared on NE:MM.