Listening to The Matt Burke Band’s debut CD, Pretty Close to Very Good, is akin to taking a trip back to the mid-’90s. Back then, groups like the Dave Matthews Band, Spin Doctors, Hootie and the Blowfish, and Blues Traveler ruled the charts with their brand of good-time rock tinged with folk and blues. The Matt Burke Band define themselves as “soulcoustic beach rock,” and indeed many of their tracks blend reggae with the organic rock sound.
Kicking off with “The Weekend War,” the group invokes Jimmy Buffet with its tropic-kissed steel drums, but Burke’s vocals are quite reminiscent of John Popper of Blues Traveler. “One Step at A Time” seems tailor-made for playing live, as the heavy rhythm guitar (courtesy of guitarist Brue Baker) accents the uptempo beat, making for a crowd-pleasing concert experience. Burke stretches his voice on this cut, hitting high notes a la Matthews. The party vibe continues with “Cover to Cover,” a rapid-beat track that also incorporates Southern rock elements, particularly in Baker’s guitar solos. When the tempo slows down and Baker plays, the sound evokes memories of the Allman Brothers Band’s “Ramblin’ Man.”
Other standouts include “School,” with acoustic guitar work very much in the style of the Dave Matthews Band’s “Typical Situation.” However, the track does not merely copy the band’s work—instead, Burke and Baker demonstrate how they work in tandem with Djembe’s drums, providing a danceable tune that would also work well live. “Moonshine Porcelain” features some impressive, complicated bass by Gordy Cushman, which perfectly complements the song’s shuffling beat. Interestingly Burke’s vocals on “Fading Faces” seem heavily influenced by Jason Mraz, with the lyrics’ rapid-fire word play reminiscent of such Mraz tracks as “The Remedy” or “I’m Yours.” Clearly the band enjoys writing satiric lyrics, particularly on display on “Superstar.” Burke practically sneers the words, poking fun at the rock star stereotype: “Hey you, mister average Joe/At my concert standing in the front row/Don’t you just love me? Don’t you just worship my band?” They humorously capture all the rock star cliches that any fan can identify with: “For sixty dollars you can show your devotion/You wear our T-shirt, we get free promotion.” Any concertgoer can relate to that sentiment.
While mostly lighthearted songs comprise the CD, “Another Sad Song” takes a slightly darker turn. Burke uses the lower ranges of his voice, while the heavy bass lends a downbeat tone to the track. “So many nights I’ve cried, so many tears come bubbling up from inside, hey/I know it’s just another sad song, baby, that’s keeping me from moving on,” Burke croons. The final song, “The Ride,” returns to the rock vibe, suggesting Blues Traveler-like blues mixed with rock. Burke and Baker’s stellar guitar work elevate the song past the typical “bar band” label.
Despite its frequent Caribbean music leanings, the band hails from the decidedly non-tropical Chicago. After playing live shows for almost a decade, they captured their enthusiastic performing style on Pretty Close to Very Good, and fans of such feel-good rock should seek out this CD. Do the time warp back to the 1990s and play the Matt Burke Band’s album at your next party.