Matt Smith’s Parlor LP, one of eight new complete albums he’s dropping in the month of September, starts off with the Django Reinhardt-reminiscent “29th St Rag” and immediately sets an upbeat tone for most every colorfully virtuosic string melody we’ll hear in the next dozen tracks. “First Love” takes the tempo down for a bit only to turn us over to the gushing fretwork of a lush and self-explanatory “Blue as Blue Can Be,” and while there’s a bit of contrast between the way these two tracks were stylized, they fit in amongst the other songs on Parlor as well as “29th St Rag,” the hesitantly blushing “Spring in My Step” and cerebral “Daydreams” do. Smith constructs an LP defined by its diversity here, and for my money as a guitar aficionado, it couldn’t be any better-appointed than it is.
“Blues in the Parlor” takes us back into the gaze of a swaggering – but wholly reflective – tone we first made contact with in “Blue as Blue Can Be,” but in this case, the delivery is a lot more subtle than it is abrasive and moderately aggressive. “After the Goldrush” slows things down to their most balladic and folk-oriented in tone, imparting a melody about ninety-seconds into its playing time that actually brought tears to my eyes the first time I listened to this album all the way through. There’s an innocence to his play here that could never have been articulated in lyrics, and through the texture of the music we’re afforded an opportunity to understand an artist’s emotion in a fashion ill-afforded to those who follow mainstream pop exclusively.
A deceptively-titled track in “Slacker” stacks the strings on top of us for a half-drunken stagger that feels a little more like a rebirth than it does a second act segue into the boldly aching bruiser “Dressing for Church” and its dark, mysterious cousin in “Traveling Man.” It’s amazing how much Matt Smith is able to communicate to us in this album through nothing other than his fretwork and the almost nonexistent reverb that cradles every melody it yields. One could assume a singer would have probably got in his way had he hired one on for this project, and in all honesty, I’m happy he decided to go the route he did here instead.
“Desert Meditation” might be the most exotic song on the latter half of Parlor, but it doesn’t dwarf the presence of a rollicking “Isla Mujeres” at all – I actually think they go together as well as roast beef and potatoes for the kind of mood Smith was trying to create towards the conclusion of the tracklist. A one-minute epilogue in “That’s All Folks!” gives us a fleeting farewell performance from Matt Smith before ushering the audience back into the silence through which it came rolling twelve songs ago, and when it’s over, there’s more a feeling of catharsis than there is a desire to go back and study what we’ve just heard. In short, if anyone ever said virtuosic records had to be case studies for hardcore music junkies exclusively, they clearly couldn’t have foreseen Matt Smith coming to prominence with an album like this one.