Originally from Eugene, Oregon, Mat Kearney went on a road trip with his buddy when he was 21. They happened to stop in Nashville, Tennessee, rented an apartment, and decided that this would be the right place to find inspiration for their music. The result was Mat’s 2004 debut album Bullet. Its success earned him a major label contract with Aware/Columbia Records.
With his sophomore disc, Mat wanted to take his music mainstream so that it could appeal to more people. It’s his goal to avoid being genre-typed. Mat says “I’m trying to avoid all these labels, so I’m being coy on purpose. I think it’s better for people to hear the music and decide for themselves what they think it is.” The result is a album full of variety, mixing pop, rock, hip hop, and some Chris Martin resemblance.
The title track “Nothing Left To Lose” recalls Mat’s moving to Nashville and turning to making music full-time. Played as an acoustic pop tune, the song vividly captures both the fear and joy of being free to either fail or succeed 100% at fulfilling his dream. It’s at this point of the album where we realize that dreams — in all forms — is the central theme. A dream of all men would be to find a girl who completes them, which Mat celebrates in “Bullet.”
Hip hop is obviously a huge influence on Mat. His best songs tend to be molded to that stereotypical radio friendly hip hop song with rap verses while rounding out with catchy pop choruses. Tracks like “Girl America” and “Can’t Break Her Fall” easily fall into this formula, but I’m not knocking on Mat for it. I’d rather knock on him for the album’s attempt toward mainstream popularity with every track seemingly made for radio airplay. Mat is talented, but I sense is lacking in Nothing Left To Lose is any struggle to be challenged or amazingly creative.
I might be a little unfair. In being a solo artist nowadays, I guess I’m expecting anyone who attempts it to be truly different and original. Joss Stone succeeds with her retro-soul style (and with her wickedly smooth voice); Norah Jones succeeds with her turn-back-the-clock jazz pop sound. Mat is a more acoustic version of Chris Glover with an eerie resemblance to Chris Martin (especially on “Wait”).
All hope isn’t lost for all of you traditional alternative pop fans. Mat delivers an emotional gem in “What’s A Boy To Do” and in the ballad “All I Need.” Hands down, Nothing Left To Lose is a good album, but in trying to consciously make mainstream music I think that Mat entered the realm of conformity rather than of creativity.