Same As I Ever Have Been
If all it took was a handful of good songs, the ability to finesse beautiful melodies from an old flat top guitar and an honest rough and true voice to make it in the music business, Matt Patershuk would be a star many times over.
Matt Patershuk’s music has a rare quality that allows his songs to go deeply in and weave into the fabric of the experiences of everyone who hears them. Matt’s a guy who writes songs that are so good, so worn down and lived in that the first time you hear one of them, you get the feeling that you already know it, that it got you through some hard times, and that you’ve lived with it for all of your life. Each word he sings is as real and true as the ground we’re standing on and as welcome as spring wind over the prairie. Even if the La Glace, Alberta resident hasn’t been on Saturday Night Live or played at the Grand Ole Opry yet, Matt Patershuk’s third album, ‘Same As I Ever Have Been’ is more than good enough to change all of that.
In many ways, Matt Patershuk’s music is a study in contrasts. As rough and loose as his songs may sound on first listen, it’s obvious that a lot of thought has gone into every lyric and riff he shares. Matt’s not an ivory tower thinker or dilettante; the demands imposed by the land and horses of his rural property, and his day job as a bridge builder assure that he’s never too far away from the concerns of the everyday world. Like a young John Prine, who used to write songs in his head while delivering the mail, observing the human condition one letter slot at a time, you get the feeling that every body of water waiting for a crossing to span it, finds its way into his songs. Because how many contractors do you know who write lines like “physicists say folks don’t go away/that all things continue to be/that all of you floats about in the blue, you’re just less orderly” as he does in ‘Memory And The First Law Of Thermodynamics’, a heartbreaking song that recalls his sister Clare who lost her life when she was hit by a drunk driver a few years ago? So, as much as the people of rural Alberta are entitled to the good and safe bridges that Matt helps build, in a perfect world, we’d let him lay down his hard hat and blueprints to pick up his notebook and guitar, the real tools of his trade, to travel the world and make it a better place through his music.
‘Same As I Ever Have Been’ is Patershuk’s most organic and confident collection of songs yet. With veteran roots musician Steve Dawson returning to produce and contribute some tasteful string work, it’s easy to hear how much Matt has grown as a performer since his last record, ‘I Was So Fond Of You’ came out in early 2016. This time around, Patershuk and Dawson met in Vancouver at Bryan Adams’ acoustically perfect Warehouse Studio to hunker down for a few days and record an albums’ worth of new roots gems. Like all of Dawson’s productions, Matt’s new songs were recorded with all of the musicians playing together in the same room. This created an intimate vibe that allowed the musicians to play off of one another to create some truly magical and unanticipated moments. For Patershuk, it was a thrilling experience. “It was a much bigger band than I had ever recorded with. Some of the songs were louder and rougher than anything I’d done on my past albums, but I jumped right in without fear, hit the ground running and played with all the energy I could muster.” Patershuk and Dawson decided to enlist the skills of legendary drummer Jay Bellerose (a frequent collaborator of T-Bone Burnett and Joe Henry), and with the help of regular Dawson collaborators such as John Reischman (mandolin), Ana Egge (vocals), Chris Gestrin (keyboards), and Jeremy Holmes (bass), the sessions were creative and spontaneous, with only a few judicious overdubs added after the fact. Every song on ‘Same As I Ever Have Been’ resonates with a warm roadhouse, barn dance feel that can’t be faked.
Indeed, one of the things that distinguishes Matt’s work from that of any number of other roots artist is how he carefully avoids well-worn and cliché topics, and if the themes of land, work and love lost sound familiar, his perspective is highly individual. Patershuk’s songs often catch people at the brink, hovering on the cusp of a tough decision. As a songwriter, he is a master at sensitively finding a new angle from which to express the hard times we all go through. For example, the opening track, ‘Sometimes You’ve Got to do Bad Things To Do Good’ expresses a maturity towards everyday tragedy that you don’t often hear, while ‘Hot Knuckle Blues’, a topical song about job losses in a changing economy offers a surprisingly insightful reflection on how to find meaning when you can’t find work. With its refrain of “this is where I first stood up/this is where they’ll find my bones”, ‘Boreal’ is as good a song about home and sense of place as you’re likely to ever hear. Fans of the more delicate side of Patershuk’s work will find lots to enjoy in songs like ‘Sparrows’ or ‘Gypsy’ and the title track, ‘Same As I Ever Have Been’, both of which feature gorgeous supporting vocals from the amazing Ana Egge.
Its great new songs, soulfully sung and beautifully played, ‘Same As I Ever Have Been’ has all of the elements Matt Patershuk needs to cross over and reach a significantly larger audience. Listen to the album, go out and hear him live at a small venue while you can. He’s not going to stay one of Canadian music’s best kept secrets for much longer.