Mandolin plucks like twinkling stars and drums bang like someone is pounding the lids of aluminum garbage cans in folk artist Matt Turk’s new album, Cold Revival. More traditional folk instruments – ukulele, steel guitar, accordion – are sprinkled throughout, each offering a tasty side dish to a serving of modern folk music that pays homage to love, loss and commitment. While grounded in the genre’s values, Turk is an edgy innovator not content for an electric guitar to merely resonate when it can screech and howl.
From island reggae rhythms (the comfortable and predictable “When A Boy”), to electric guitar solo fade-outs (the surprisingly explosive “In Her Smile”), Turk covers much ground in an array of styles that fall neatly under his Euro-folk gazebo tree. His modernist testament to emotional angst (love-loss-commitment, in that order) is crowned with a watchful eye on the state of the fiery political world, singing on the title track, “Young lovers and young soldiers, lead us through this war/Caught between the crossfire of extremists, there’s no middle ground anymore”.
Sorrowful steel guitars and comfort zone keyboards lay a bedrock of impending grief in “Quiet Day”, a heart-aching ode to death and dying which recalls John Prine’s similar shout-out to the aged, “Hello In There”. Turk’s omnipresent view of a lifelong relationship ending in death boasts his troubadour talent for atmosphere and storytelling as he conveys, both musically and lyrically, the helplessness of an aging couple who “live in a small way, hope for a quiet day”.
The late great Harry Nilsson, complete with escalating vocals and antiquated musical instruments (accordion, ragtime piano) is a certain inspiration in the jaunty barroom blues of “Battle Song” in which the lovelorn sips his brew to the point of misery – “I used to dream about you/Now I just want to kill you.” The talk narrative and subsequent rock and roll surge in “Say You’ll Live” brings the urgency and topicality of indie bands Drive-By Truckers and The Handsome Family to mind.
While Cold Revival flirts on the fringes of chill – the songs say relationships are futile and impossible to resist – the outcome is a warm embrace this songwriter happily surrenders to. He conveys that paradox with the finest of folk music values, occasionally stepping out of bounds to express the boundless limits of the genre.
Photo credit: deliradio.com
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