Album Review: Matthew McNeal – Compadre
A high energy, captivating singer songwriter, Matthew McNeal has the uncanny ability to make the stories of the everyman timeless and seemingly effortless. On this album Compadre listeners find both rock-infused country as well as stripped down acoustic stuff. It’s a great mix and McNeal has the ability to deliver both styles with great proficiency. It’s a solid album for fans of a variety of country music subgenres.
The opening track “Alonely” is hard driving and a bit more highly produced than what we typically feature around here, but the full rockin’ country band sound gets at the difficult emotions of the song. McNeal sings from a sort of desperation that sounds like he’s shouting his last hopeful message. It’s like sometimes he doesn’t know how long this will all last, so he’s going to leave it all on the stage. It’s the good kind of desperation.
“Imaginary Friend” is a strangely complicated song. It’s both stripped down, but uses a fiery electric guitar to make pointed highlights. It’s also lyrically about a complex relationship about a partner who disrupts the way he lives his live. “Now I’m reliving the words you never said…” But how many of us have been there? We incessantly react to what could be or could have been. It’s a much deeper track philosophically than it might feel on first listen. Go ahead and spin it again. “I need you but I don’t want to.” Yep.
“A Losing Hand” seems like it would be about poker, but it’s actually about a woman leaving him. There’s something about the melody that reminds me of “I won’t give up” by Jason Mraz. There’s nothing else about the two artists that is alike, but these two tracks definitely conjure that same sound. The track starts with a nice stripped down sound, then really picks up for a big almost arena-rock feel that stretches McNeal beyond the upper reaches of his register.
The album rebounds nicely with “Wash My Wounds,” an ethereal, gritty rock country track. The organ really serves to give it a feeling befitting McNeal’s overall sound. He’d do well to fill a full album of this kind of track. There’s a little Creedence, a little Skynrd, and a good bit of attitude present on this one. In this case the distortion and electrification tricks serve to give the song teeth, which is perfect for a song written out of a place of personal brokenness. It’s not a “woe is me song,” rather one that claims to fight back.
“Lost and Found” uses that same atmospheric organ that helps so much for the album’s feel. Fans of Green River Ordinance will hear some of that flavor in McNeal’s writing too. His melody lines, like on “Lost and Found” tend to be complex but clear. The songs often detail the intricacies of romantic relationships without whining the way country songs are stereotypically portrayed. Rather, they convey the rawness of human emotion. “I found love at the bottom of a bottle…” Despite the stereotype here, the song portrays the reality of alcoholism much more genuinely than the celebratory anthems of pop country.
The piano and vocal balance on “The Wind” is a great feel for McNeal’s style. Even the piano used in the recording seems to have a well-worn timbre to it. The acoustic guitar really shines on “Just for me,” again highlighting the sincere delivery from Matthew McNeal. The climbing chord changes with the earnest steel guitar come together for a classic country feeling. I’d love to hear more of this style from McNeal. The lament of the song and the crispness of the acoustic fingerpicking deliver a beautiful, even mesmerizing tune.
The final track “Little Star of Texas” is the party jam for the album. It’ll get the boots jumpin’ and the people swingin’. Honestly it’s not a country album without something like this on it. Heck, it even includes the phrase “dance with the devil.” A bit stereotypical for my taste, it’s an almost obligatory song for the genre.
It’s McNeal’s variety of subgenres that, to me, is the story of the album. He’s not just an acoustic singer songwriter or an arena-jamming big country guy. He’s a little of everything. I hear influences from blues, jazz, and of course roots country. It all comes together for an enjoyable ride that will keep a lot of people interested. I prefer a few songs over others, but all told it’s an album that the majority of country music fans will find amenable if not downright loveable.