Songwriter Mark Matos returns to Tucson
Matos performs Thursday at Plush with his new outfit, Os Beaches
Matos spent several years in Tucson, collaborating with many local musicians, as well as performing with an ever-changing cast of characters in his own Campo Bravo.
After returning to his native California in 2006, Mark Matos immersed himself in San Francisco's "freak folk" scene. Three years later, he emerges with a new album on Porto Franco Records, "Words of the Knife." The album, produced by American Music Club collaborator Eric Moffat, is a departure from Matos' lo-fi approach of yore.
The record reflects the relocation to San Francisco's Mission District, and to California in a larger sense. Matos embraces his psych-rock roots, as well as the more experimental versions of folk emerging from the region, allowing his traditional country rock song structure to evolve somewhat. Matos has abandoned playing guitar on many songs, opting for Hammond B-3 organ and piano as his instrument of choice.
The arrangements are rich and complex, unlike the stripped-down ethos of the Campo Bravo recordings. Vocal is layered upon vocal, as Matos plays with doubling and effects, and invites vocalist Kacey Johansing to join the choir.
The record brings together several luminaries of the San Francisco scene, including Matt Adams of Blank Tapes, Dave Mihaly, Tom Heyman of Court and Spark, and guitarist Ben Reisdorph, whose straight-ahead guitar work allows Matos to concentrate on keyboards and still retain that Neil Young-esque 70s rock flavor.
Arguably, Matos is still at his best and most realized when he stays within his country rock comfort zone; the opening track, "Hired Hand," with its organ lilt and dual guitar twang, as well as a harmonica break, suggests Dylan and the Band or The Flying Burrito Bros, or perhaps contemporary band Wilco's revision of the 70s era. Like Wilco singer Jeff Tweedy, or local legend Howe Gelb, Matos uses the casual, speak-singing delivery associated with Dylan.
The album's centerpiece, "The Warrior and the Thief," infuses just such a country rock tune with the trappings of psychedelia. The song is over 10 minutes long, and structure is simple, allowing for endless verses of rich, Dylanesque double rhyme:
- Chain me to a rock on the edge of the earth
- Chase me in my socks through the cracks in city blocks
- Guarded by gryphons, hey man would you help me pick this lock?
- It's a way, wayout living, how's the view from the top?
The song's verses give way to a long, psychedelic outro, featuring Reisdorph's guitar work. This one is sure to rock live.
The most experimental, freak-folky tunes on the album are less successful, veering as they do into novelty-driven arrangements full of incidental percussion and forced wackiness.
Matos' pop sensibility and his lyrical depth are his greatest strengths, and are shown to advantage on "Words of the Knife." His touring 4-piece band will recreate the atmosphere of the album Thursday. Matos is sure to pull out some of his old Tucson treasures as well, recalling his tenure as a Tucson troubadour.