BY KELLY DEARMORE
It’s tough to imagine a lo-fi artist on a more impressive roll than Phosphorescent these days. The Matthew Houck-led project’s latest triumph, Muchacho, is another remarkably crafted album of sad-sack poetry with the deft, yet slightly dangerous, touch of a train-hopping hobo that knows his way around a synthesizer and has a sincere yearning in his voice.
Houck’s profile grew immensely after the music world heard his 2009 audio gift, To Willie. The record was a fantastic collection of reworked Willie Nelson tunes done expertly, without irony, to the point where Houck was rightfully recognized as an artist with a great amount of tricks up his sleeve. On the follow-up to Phosphorescent’s 2010’s stunner, Here’s to Taking It Easy, Houck hasn’t let his love for the Red-Headed Stranger evaporate. “Terror in the Canyons (The Wounded Master)” and especially, “Down to Go” are prime bits of AM country gold that would’ve fit like a comfy, weed-scented glove on his Nelson tribute collection.
Overall, the album carries the feel of burlap sack-filtered dream-pop that shifts gears in tempo regularly, but never feels forcefully cobbled together. Houck’s writing continues to progress and, as a result, impress in a large way. In the opening line of “Song for Zula,” after a few electronic beats, Houck sings in a slightly distorted vocal, “Some say love is a burning thing, that it makes a fiery ring, oh, but I know love as a fading thing, just as fickle as a feather in a stream.” When pulling lyrics from a Johnny Cash classic (“Ring of Fire”), it’s wise to add something of value to the line, lest you fall flat on your bearded face.
Thankfully for Houck, as well as the listener, the drama of the source lyric is complemented beautifully by a melancholy sentimental that’s not melodramatic. Speaking of the iconic song that turned country music on its ear in 1963, freaked-out mariachi trumpets appear on the de-facto title track, “Muchacho’s Tune,” which thickens the album’s countrified haze as Houck’s melodic warbling rides a psych-country wave that flows beyond the fenced-in southern border of Arizona. Another album or two as great as his past couple of have been, and younger artists will be getting their To Matthew albums ready.
DOWNLOAD: “Song for Zula,” “Muchacho’s Tune”