Veteran Cincinnati singer/songwriter Maurice Mattei has covered a lot of lyrical ground in his career, using a variety of literary and thematic devices throughout his impressive and bountiful discography, which kicked off in earnest with his 1995 debut album, Grandview (read Brian Baker's 2014 profile of Mattei for CityBeat here). Though a few of his releases have been fleshed out by his sometime-backing band The Tempers and other musicians, most have been truly “solo” efforts, with just Mattei’s acoustic guitar and vocals. Returning to the more minimalist format in 2015 with Girl Jungle, Mattei’s new album, Jealous Wreck, continues the motif, which he has proven works exceptionally for his style. Mattei’s lyrics are often the main draw, loaded with compellingly detailed and often darkly hued characters, stories and slices of life, and the naked, unfussy presentation and production of his best solo acoustic work gives them more impact.
Throughout Mattei’s songwriting career, the sonic and tonal qualities of his music have been anchored in the essential elements of foundational Rock & Roll, Pop, Folk and, occasionally, Country music. Most of those are evident on Jealous Wreck, but it’s also hard not to think of the Blues — both the emotional condition and the musical style — when first diving into the album. Palpable sadness and heartbreak are threaded throughout the album’s songs, which are built on top of percussive, expressive acoustic guitar work. While not simply or overtly “Blues” (it’s far from rote and repetitive 12-bar jamming and often wanders away from it completely), some of Mattei’s playing on Jealous Wreck carries the genre’s early spirit and connects well with the emotional tenor of the lyrics. Likewise, many of the album’s best tracks aren’t simply clichéd sad-sack songs for the brokenhearted — they’re more multidimensional, as Mattei cleverly plays with the complexities, layers and nuances of love and loss.
While many of the characters in Mattei’s songs have been presented from an observational standpoint, Jealous Wreck shows his strength with the first-person narrative. The album opens with the title track, a highlight and tone-setter in which the line between “yearning, spurned lover” and “obsessed, delusional stalker” are blurred. Though the narrator pines for the object of his desire with a sense of honest despair, in the details we deduce that his situational awareness is out of whack. This “jealous guy” is a “wreck,” but the relationship with the woman he’s in love with is clearly one-sided. A “gypsy” tells him she’s the one for him and he sings of staring at her in a shopping mall; things take an even creepier turn as a sense of ire surfaces because the woman — an apparent stranger — turns away from him, “unimpressed.”
Elsewhere on the album, the plodding slow-burner “You Had Other Plans” simmers and stews in lovelorn loneliness, while the galloping “Beautiful Bride” (as in, “She’d make a beautiful bride”) is a bit more playful in its thirstiness and wordplay (“Skintight leather, sailor suit/Cracker Jacks and a hula hoop”). The album closes with “Bound to Fall,” a heartsick reminiscence that is alternately wistful, grateful, bitter and fatalistic.
Mattei celebrates the release of Jealous Wreck Saturday in the intimate Lounge room at Southgate House Revival (111 E. Sixth St., Newport, southgatehouse.com), with The Cousin Kissers opening the night at 9 p.m. The show is free and everyone who attends (well, the “first 5,000” through the doors, as the show filer above clarifies) gets a complimentary CD copy of the new album. For more on Mattei’s music (and his work in other disciplines), visit mmattei.com. (Maurice also does the best social media release/performance-promotion in the history of the universe; take a look on Facebook here.)
Contact Mike Breen: [email protected]