When I first encountered Matt Urmy’s music earlier this year—on the superior compilation East Nashville Vol. 3: More Music from the Other Side—I felt inadequate having never previously heard this spellbinding poet, lyricist, singer, and musician. Sweet Lonesome executive producer David Hererra lets me off the hook in his brief liner note, identifying Urmy as “one of the best undefined and undiscovered artists in [Nashville.]” Obviously, I’m not the only one who overlooked this incredible talent.
With Sweet Lonesome, all that should change because this is one of the strongest recent visions of what Americana can be.
Without abandoning hooks or accessibility, Urmy has created a powerful album that fuses words and melody with deeply held convictions of honesty and candidness.
Within this music, one hears shadings of masters—Chip Taylor’s ability to twist phrases into popular sentiment, Jim Lauderdale’s sense of timing and rhythm, Rodney Crowell’s gift for creating fiction from experience, and Guy Clark’s need to keep things plain but memorable. On “Helpless Fool” Urmy not only has created a song that vaguely recalls Clark’s “Old Friends” but drops a line that GC would likely be proud to call his own: “I don’t mind getting lost inside a lonely afternoon/‘cause in a world like this I just can’t complain about feeling blue.”
Although cloud seeders may argue, when he sings on the album’s opening song “Stone in the River” that “you can build a fire but you can’t change the weather,” Urmy places his art into perspective: he can write the words, he can sing the songs, but it is up to the listener to react to the challenges he illuminates.
With a broken whiskey glass-scarred voice somewhere near where Greg Brown, Johnny Dowd, and Tom Russell meet, Urmy is immediately appealing. His masculine rasp houses that elusive element that lends every word authenticity.
Recorded in a two-day blast at the refurbished and famed Quonset Hut studio, Urmy is joined by three recognizable Nashville voices on select cuts. Jonell Mosser provides vocals to a trio of songs, subtly enhancing Urmy’s creations. Ashley Cleveland guests on one song as does Mary Gauthier; trading lines with Urmy, Gauthier’s contributions to the title track lift the song toward timelessness.
A multifaceted project, tunes such as “Bring It Back (I Rely on You),” “Night on the Road,” and “Violence in Love” are closer to traditional country songs than many of the pieces. Elsewhere, including “She Said I’m a Hotel” and “The Old Photograph,” Urmy touches on material and approaches seldom encountered within mainstream music, exploring relationships and human existence with a philosopher’s touch. Additionally, Urmy punctuates his songs with brief recitations of verse, providing the project with additional heft.
That’s not to say that Sweet Lonesome is a bleak, overly introspective tome of self-flagellation and judgment. The intelligent, frequently profound writing is buoyed by instrumentation that positively rocks, with a full band framing Urmy’s creations with sounds that wouldn’t be out of place on any Drive-By Truckers or Bottle Rockets release.
Whether viewed as a populist Cohen or a hillbilly Waits, Matt Urmy’s third album reflects his continuing development as an artist and reveals a rare creativity pulsing within this Tennessean.
by Donald Teplyske