Matt Buetow‘s writing style is about as smooth as it gets. Relaxing, engaging, and comforting, Buetow writes the kind of Americana music that will keep you listening.
One of my favorite characteristics of Buetow’s music is the clean guitar lines. It’s hard to explain to someone that doesn’t listen to a lot of Americana music, but there’s some really jangly, ugly guitar playing out there. Buetow’s music has clean lines stylized with mostly country overtones (helped with the backing steel guitar), but with the occasional jazzy flourish. It really influences the character of the entire album.
The opener “All I’ve Known” provides a great indicator of the album overall. It introduces the great guitars mentioned above, as well as Buetow’s familiar voice. A little bit James Taylor, Buetow sounds like an everyman acoustic artist. But don’t let his style fool you; he’s an exceptionally gifted artist.
The title track “The Valley” is similarly engaging. “What’s the harm in spending one more summer in the valley lost?” It’s an intriguing query, using natural imagery (blackbirds, etc.), but seems to be alluding to something emotionally darker. The listener is reminded of both the emotional depth of a “valley” experience, as well as the natural richness of a “valley.” The layered imagery is beautiful and meaningful. There’s a lick on “The Valley” that sounds like it’s taken right off of a Justin Townes Earle album. (That’s not an accusation… it’s a compliment.) It’s a bit more methodical and slow than Earle, but it has a similar kind of timeless quality about it.
“The Stream” has a bit more of a 70s soft rock vibe to it, while “You Won’t” has a heavy beat with soaring steel guitar that is neither “country” nor rock. In fact, it’s not even the typical blend of the two. It’s a unique and intriguing mix. Oh and the lyrics are powerful to, “when hope is near you drag me to the sea and shove me off.” It’s about pain and heartache in real, gritty terms.
“Prescription Snow” is a bit more of a stereotypical singer songwriter track. Buetow’s vocals are, well, sing-songy. “The Hangman” is a similarly chill track with a bit more of a focus on the creative process. It’s about writing music and drawing pictures. Ultimately it’s about imagination. I’m sure there’s more to the story, but I like the mystery in it.
The complicated guitar parts return with “The Game.” Bucking the trend of much of the album, the rhythm is upbeat but not really a dance song. It’s more like a challenge. The lyrics challenge the listener to get into the “game” of life. “Helpless Son” is also upbeat, but with a sort of optimistic tone to it. It’s the kind of song that gets your toes tapping and the steel guitar accents with sweet high notes. It’s one of the best songs on the album.
The concluding “Movie Love” is a distorted love song of sorts. Sounding a bit like the Milk Carton Kids’ Kenneth Pattengale, Buetow’s vocals are easily the best on the album. There’s a depth and sincerity in this track that makes it feel a bit more important. The backing strings really seem to help this track. It’s a style Buetow would be wise to revisit in future work.
All told, the album is easy to listen to and quite enjoyable. Not to insult the lyrics, but it’s the kind of album you like to have on in the background of doing other things. There’s an ease to its composition that is comforting. Fans of acoustic singer songwriters and Americana broadly speaking will enjoy Buetow’s work considerably.