Matt MacDougall – Boy Goes to City [TrackList follows] – Maxwell Tree Music 888295251990, 34:12 [5/19/15] [MP3 only at this time] ****:
(Matt MacDougall – guitar, co-producer; Alex Wignall – keyboards (tracks 3-4, 6-7); Jeff Coffin – tenor sax (tracks 1-3, 7); Adam Carrillo – tenor, alto and soprano sax (tracks 2, 4-7); Arianna Fanning – drums, co-producer; Roy Vogt – bass)
You know the old story. Small-town kid moves to the big city to seek fame and fortune; or get discovered; or to find out if she or he has what it takes to become like the bigger-name artists. Guitarist Matt MacDougall understands that journey. On MacDougall’s sophomore release, Boy Goes to City, MacDougall traces his passage from his native Nova Scotia in Canada (where he initially studied jazz) to Indiana University (where he continued his jazz education) and onward to Nashville, where he became a part of that city’s jazz scene. MacDougall’s debut, 2012’s Familiar Faces, came out when he was a student in Canada. It won accolades. But MacDougall’s second record shows him digging deeper and presenting a wider musical perspective.
MacDougall explains, “Nashville being the diverse musical community that it is, I’ve played a lot of jazz since I’ve been down here, but I’ve done a heck of a lot of other stuff as well.” Those influences and others percolate the seven tracks, which have jazz, rock, country and folk elements. MacDougall enlisted five other musicians to bring his distinct material into sharp focus. From his days at Indiana University there is saxophonist Adam Carrillo, electric keyboardist Alex Wignall, and drummer (and MacDougall’s wife) Arianna Fanning. Other names may be more familiar. There’s tenor saxophonist Jeff Coffin (best known for his work with Béla Fleck & the Flecktones, but he has also been in the Dave Mathews Band) and bassist Roy Vogt (his longtime Nashville stature has led to sessions with guitarist Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers Band, country guitarist Jerry Reed, and many more).
Growing up in Canada, MacDougall was aware of the regional folk music which developed from British and Irish songs. That particular impact can be heard on the multi-tiered “Heritage.” Most of the tune has a hard-edged fusion feel, shown by means of MacDougall’s harsher tone (he switches from melodious strumming to forceful riffs). And the ensemble escalates into a stormy section about 3 1/2 minutes in. But during the last 45 seconds, MacDougall veers into Celtic territory, where he performs an Irish-lilted melody but plays it with a sitar-like aspect, thus referencing his Canadian background and his wife’s Asian Indian heritage. There is an alternative, seven-minute online live version, with a different line-up, which is also worth hearing.
As a teen, MacDougall was first attracted to rock acts such as Nirvana, Metallica and Guns N’Roses. Later, MacDougall explored Chet Atkins’ finger-style guitar and other country authorities. Both of those inspirations come to the forefront on the relatively brief “Melancholy Lullaby.” Primarily the arrangement echoes Atkins’ friendly sway, with MacDougall’s country-tinged licks bolstered by Carrillo’s warm soprano sax and Vogt’s electric, fusion-esque bass. With less than a minute left of the 2:44 track, MacDougall suddenly layers in loud blues-rock guitar riffs reminiscent of Jeff Beck. It’s a juxtaposed moment which reveals MacDougall’s readiness to go from expectation to surprise. MacDougall does something similar on “A Year That Never Happened,” a piece which denotes a romanticized musical period of MacDougall’s past which did not quite occur the way it seems now, i.e., MacDougall is observing through a rose-tinted nostalgia. MacDougall unites Nirvana guitarist Kurt Cobain’s angst-driven style with Atkins’ finger-picking characteristic, and is reinforced by Wignall’s electric keyboard (he imparts a memorable solo about halfway into the number). Carrillo supplies a subdued emotionality via his soprano sax, which provides a sensitive facility. The thematic “Kid with Every Problem” is another example of how MacDougall can conjoin different areas of expertise. He furnishes an acute, dissonant-instilled tonality, while Fanning maintains a solid, strengthened backbeat and rhythmic foundation, and Coffin fills up the space with his on-spot sax. MacDougall clarifies, “I thought the title would aptly suit the quirky and off-kilter character of the piece.” Jazz is paramount throughout the 34-minute recording, while MacDougall’s other components (folk, rock, etc.) are like the icing on the cake.
One compelling cut is the concluding, upbeat title track, which mixes modern, post-bop with some New Orleans accents. Sax, keys, bass, guitar and drums come together in a winning display of boisterous music. There’s a dash of angularity, but mostly this is fun, metropolitan jazz which probably sounds even better on stage than on the CD. One of the highlights of the title track is hearing Coffin and Carrillo’s twinned saxes go head to head. Nashville may not be a jazz mecca like the Big Apple. But with locals like Coffin, MacDougall, Fanning and others, there is ample evidence of a robust jazz scene which hopefully will continue to generate interest. Anyone who wants a taste of what MacDougall offers on Boy Goes to City should watch MacDougall’s official promo video, which includes clips from the studio sessions.
TrackList: Kid with Every Problem; Heritage; Modern/Miscellaneous; We’re Both at Fault; A Year that Never Happened; Melancholy Lullaby; Boy Goes to City.