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Music Review: Matt Epp – Safe Or Free

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The word troubadour could have been invented for Matt Epp. Since emerging out of Winnipeg, Canada he has been out on the road, living the troubadour life – in the real sense of the word – and writing of his experiences gained along the journey.

His latest album Safe Or Free contains twelve beautifully crafted tracks that seem to capture some of the magic of that troubadour lifestyle and all that goes with it. “This Old House” opens the album and has Matt singing of love in an excellent duet with Eliza Gilkyson.

The radio strong “Working Holiday” has Matt in love again, this time with California. You can almost visualise him on his travels, guitar in hand, a song in his mind, leaving his music in the air of each town visited. Only the best can pull this off, successfully bringing a smile and a tear to people in equal measures with songs as honest as the day is long.

A one time professional skateboard film-maker, actor, and latter day wandering musician Matt prefers the road, choosing homelessness over a fixed address. Very often this outside observer will notice something in a place and its people; something that people, wrapped-up in day-to-day life, just don't notice. Having the ability to convey this within his music marks him out as a special song writer indeed.

So when someone as authentic as Matt Epp sings “come with me on my working holiday” the wannabe in me wants to quit my job, pack my rucksack, learn guitar, and head off into the blue yonder.  Safe Or Free is the question and most of us just dream of such things and play-it-safe. Matt on the other hand is free. Free to roam, free to write, and free to play his music wherever he pleases.

“Life For Life” has him sounding like Chris Martin in a Coldplay track that never was. It is a touching song of parenthood, and providing for those you love, delivered with a heartfelt spirituality mixed with a gentle twang of country.

“Hallelujah” shines a gentle glow on how seriously he takes his craft. It was written in a “filthy apartment in Toronto” that he rented for a couple of months.  In the album notes he says, “I had been reading the story of Job. I’m still a little nervous about what it means to me, as sometimes songs that just appear are foretelling.”

The easy flow that forms the spiritual “Follow Me” lifts the heart again in a song crying out for open top, sunny day, airplay. “Travel By Ground” is a track of assured isolation, reflecting a choice, a belief, and a lifestyle.

Whilst many of us are busily seeking the security that ultimately restricts our horizons, Matt casts it aside and sings, “I’ll travel alone if I must, feel my feet in the dust. Meet the people, see the towns, I won’t miss the journey if I travel by ground.” With the sky above and the road stretching out ahead he turns the experience into authentic songs of life, love, and the meaning of it all.

“Crying In Mexico” paints an instant canvass of a time along that journey. The darkness of devotion that is within “They Won’t Find The Bodies”, the vulnerability of “Cover Me”, and the excellent “Emergency Kiss”, featuring Amelia Curran, all underline the album's early promise.

“Too Cool” sees Matt weaving an easy song of spirituality. It is a track by a writer in touch with the world, and its creation. “I Am The Wind” brings Safe Or Free to a gentle close with a song, a last minute addition, that I am glad made the cut.

I suspect, from what I’ve heard and read, that Matt Epp would not necessarily want a great deal of attention. Surely that would go against his boots and dust lifestyle. However, he deserves just that.

He has ditched the conventional safety net and used his authentic experiences of life as a travelling musician to produce a highly impressive album. As I settle back into the safe he has my genuine admiration for being free.

Get out on the road with Matt Epp on his official website.

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About Jeff Perkins