Album: JUST KIDS
Artist: Mat Kearney
Skip To: Moving On
Forewarning: last week, I attended a Mat Kearney concert, and I’m still coming off my concert high. This is going to be a long post. If you want to skip my
obsessive fangirling concert recap, the actual album review begins after the photos.
I have to credit/blame Jenna (justcurlythingss.wordpress.com) for introducing me to Mat Kearney’s music with Young Love in 2011. For four years, I not-so-patiently waited for more. And after JUST KIDS came out, his tour didn’t come to California. I thought I would have to live with that. But thanks to my new best friend Bandsintown, I found out Mat (we’re definitely on a first name basis) would be opening for a wine festival in Napa. Back row tickets were all that were available because most seats were reserved for rich boozefest attendees, but I still shut up any conscience telling me I’m an adult and should make smarter financial decisions.
After walking around Napa (PSA, NorCal is better than SoCal), Jenna and I went to an event we had no business attending. Everyone was dressed fancy, and I was wearing soaked jeans because I’d forgotten a raincoat. They gave us a free book of all the local wineries even after we told them we were just there for Mat, and there were a bunch of wine tasting tables. When the doors finally opened, we saw most of the front few rows were sparsely filled, so Jenna suggested we move and see if anyone stopped us. So while the mayor of Yountville gave some humanitarian presentation (at this point we’d realized we were in Emily Gilmore land) we sat down in the sixth row.
Finally, after they gave out some award to some wine connoisseur, they invited Mat up, who was clearly just as out of place as we were. He was even better than I expected. He had an amazing voice, and Jenna and I started jamming out and dying a little inside. Halfway through the first song, we noticed a few people walk towards the front of the stage, so we thought we would do that too, and we ended up right at the stage for the whole concert.
My time in theater taught me that performers can be… into themselves… But I didn’t get that sense from him. He seemed grateful we were there, and wasn’t put off that most people were there for the festival. He’s a solo artist, but I loved that he involved his band as opposed to making them backup. Also, there’s something so distinct about going to a smaller venue. Artists who aren’t as big get the chance to connect more with their audience, and just like JOSEPH and The Oh Hellos, Mat really engaged his audience, making it feel like all of us were just hanging out playing music. There are a million more things I could say, but I think I’ve bored you enough, and congratulations for reaching the end of this shpeel.
Photos by Jenna and a rich wine connoisseur.
JUST KIDS is such a masterpiece that I’m not sure I can do it justice, but I will try. This powerfully honest album opens with “Heartbreak Dreamer,” an upbeat, layered song that captures the spirit of the album. It sets a spectacular beat behind the half singing, half rap/spoken word verses, and repeating piano riffs bolster the sound. The song is so lyrically deep, a trend that continues throughout the album. Mat’s lyrics focus on storytelling, not just his own story, but the stories of the heartbroken and overlooked.
“Moving On,” a beautiful call to leave the past behind, starts off quiet and builds throughout the verse and pre-chorus, and surprises the listener with terrific falsetto voicing in the chorus. The album backs off with “Just Kids,” a primarily piano and drum song that has an almost blues-y undertone. Echoing drums and tones intrude at unexpected moments, giving the song a darker feel, but also bulking up the sound. The subsequent tracks, “Heartbeat” and “Billion,” return to the starting energy and are two of the lighter songs on the album and center around the love of his life.
In “One Black Sheep,” Mat tells a sadder story of feeling out of place and contrasts it with joyful-sounding music. The beat and the melodic guitar give the song direction, mirroring the story, in which the speaker is constantly moving to new places. Mat similarly mirrors his lyrics in “Let It Rain,” in which a repeated descending line of octave notes gives the effect of rain. The album once again reverts to a darker feel with the hauntingly beautiful “Ghost.” Most of the instruments echo, and the story doesn’t resolve in hope.
After the rap-oriented and subtly soulful “Los Angeles” and the imagery-filled story of “Miss You,” Mat introduces the entirely acoustic “The Conversation,” a duet with a female artist. The lyrics present two opposing sides of an argument, each artist singing a particular side. Their voices unite in the chorus and bridge to create stunning harmonies. The penultimate track, “One Heart” imitates the style of “Heartbreak Dreamer” with its rap verses, crescendoing chorus, and powerful storytelling, and the album concludes with “Shasta.” The song is named for the street Mat Kearney grew up on, and presents a different style than the rest of the album, poignant and nostalgic. The song is the natural epilogue to the album. Mat pays homage to his roots throughout the album, but “Shasta” ties together all of his other stories of growing up and leaving.
This album is such a powerful tribute of nostalgia and storytelling and it showcases Mat’s incredible talents. However. I recognize I have not properly represented this album’s brilliance. Just go listen to it, okay?