By Aaron Stein

The first four songs of Matt Costa's Songs We Sing are an absolute revelation. It’s the bravery and audacity of a man willing to walk out of his house completely naked with a guitar on his back and some songs in his soul that first grabs you. And it’s the four-step construction of a sound that reels you in.

Up first is “Yellow Taxi,” and it is not only the song title that harkens Joni Mitchell, but the sweet vocals and crisp acoustic guitar that allows the comparison to ring true. It is a song that seems to be all chorus and no verse, a catchy blend of melody and lyrics. “Astair” comes next, and it builds on the hooking magic of the first, layering in more instruments and surprising with a subtly placed harpsichord. Here you are thinking that Damien Rice has nothing on Matt Costa. By the third song, the term (of endearment) “Beatles-esque” doesn’t seem to be a reach as “Oh Dear” picks up the pace with the first drums to be heard on the album, a Ringoland rhythm that wouldn’t seem out of place on a Revolver-era B-side. Just as you think you can snag the cheese and get away, the mousetrap snaps and clamps tight on your ears and you’re stuck by track 4, “Cold December.” This one actually starts to rock a little with a full-fledged band at its side and a bass player acting as grease monkey, lubing up the engines and topping off all your fluids. And that’s when the music first starts to frustrate you.

Yes, I recommend this album wholeheartedly. I think this guy’s got it (Damien Rice is the closest comparison I can make if you're looking for one), and so everything else I’ve got to say is just constructive criticism. There are moments when this music wants to rock a little, where a full band getting behind it and feeding its fires would make all the difference. Costa has the talents, there’s no doubt about it. He plays multiple instruments on each song, likely starting with guitar and voice and then overdubbing piano, bass, etc. There are other musicians in the mix, strings, drums, guest bassists and guitarists, and that heavenly harpsichord I mentioned earlier, but as the album goes on, the music lacks the energy and chemistry of songs being made by a band in a studio. Comparing the rest of the album with the brilliant “Cold December” and the equally iPod-able track “Behind the Moon,” in which a bassist and drummer also sit in, it is clear that these additional musicians are bringing something that all the talent in the world isn’t going to provide. There certainly is power in the singularity of Matt’s talents and to stifle them would be folly, but for most of the time from track 5 through the end, there is something lacking, something which is probably as simple as the omnipresence of a talented bass player. There’s a moment in “Cold December” where it feels like it’s ready to rock out completely, and yet it’s tempered and subdued - hence the frustration. Still, if not a change was made to the sound or style, you could do a lot worse than Matt Costa.

[Published on: 9/12/05]

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