Album Review :
Mat Kearney - City of Black & White

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Band: Mat Kearney
Title: City of Black & White
Label: Aware/Columbia
Release Date: 5/21/09
Review By: Matt B


1. All I Have
2. Fire & Rain
3. Closer To Love
4. Here We Go
5. Lifeline
6. New York To California
7. Runaway Car
8. Never Be Ready
9. Annie
10. Straight Away
11. On & On
12. City of Black & White
13. Save a Line [Best Buy Bonus Track]
14. Fire & Rain (Acoustic) [Best Buy Bonus Track]

Mat Kearney is one of the only major label artists I can think of who can go three years without releasing a new record, and avoid getting considerable flack for it. This fact alone is a testament to Mat’s integrity as a a songwriter. When Nothing Left to Lose was released back in 2006, most everyone who heard it believed that Mat had written an excellent record. Why? Because it was fresh, honest, pure music. It wasn’t terribly original, musically speaking, but the songs on that record were delivered in a way that could connect with and be related to by the listener in ways that few other songwriters can accomplish. You could pop the CD into your stereo, and it was like Mat was in the room with you, singing from your heart, and your experiences. At least that’s how it was for me, as Nothing Left to Lose became my go to record for the hard times. The songs are soothing, passionate and warm, and have only grown to be more relevant, and important to my life in the past three years. In this way, Mat’s music is undeniably Mat’s music. Those comforting qualities of Mat’s previous work is what made me anticipate City of Black & White so much. It’s the first new release in quite awhile that I’ve been so excited about. I literally ran out of Best Buy to my car, because every second spent walking would have been a second I couldn’t have listened to the new record. I’ve spun it close to 5 times a day since I got it. So how does it stack up to expectations?
One thing I noticed right off the bat as the first track, “All I Have,” was playing, is that this new record has much more of a full band feel than Bullet and Nothing Left to Lose had. The electric guitar is more upfront, and more vital to the song structures throughout the CD than it has been in the past. At first I was a little disappointed, but this turned out to not be such a bad thing when I listened to the album for what it was rather than for what I was expecting. And most importantly, the more upfront electric guitars don’t adulterate the music one bit. As vocals of the first verse of “All I Have” pour out of your speakers, you’ll realize that Mat is back, just as vulnerable and honest as ever.

The second thing you’ll notice is that the spoken word/rapped verses that were present on the first two records are gone without a trace. I must admit that I wasn’t expecting this, so it threw me off a little at first. The spoken word was one of my favorite things on the last two records, as I felt that it added a certain amount of personality to the music. While I have to admit that this was a minor letdown, I also have to acknowledge that the lack of rapping doesn’t take away from the quality of the songs that are on the record. Don’t buy the CD expecting songs like “Undeniable,” “Girl America,” “Bullet,” or “Renaissance.” Rather, expect some excellent pop hooks similar to what you heard in “In the Middle,” “All I Need,” or “Won’t Back Down,” except with the full band feel as previously described. Every song on this record is solid, but if you aren’t able to get away from your expectations of Nothing Left to Lose Part Dos, you won’t be able to enjoy it to the extent you otherwise would. There is one drawback I haven’t been able to get over yet, though, and it is the chorus of “Here We Go.” There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, it’s just that it sounds a lot like some really popular song that I can’t put a finger on right now. So while it’s a solid song, I can’t stop thinking about what that other song might be while I’m listening to it. Maybe some of you readers can help me with that, haha.

I just now thought that I was about done with the review, when I remembered that I forgot to discuss the lyrics. Mat’s always been an excellent lyricist. Thematically speaking, he doesn’t cover anything new, but he’s got a knack for conveying universal feelings and emotions without resorting to cliches. Just listen to “Closer to Love,” the first single, which talks about the fragility of life. Supposedly it was written when his sister was diagnosed with cancer, but I haven’t been able to verify that. Anyway, here are the opening lines to give you an idea:

She got the call today, one out of the grey/ and when the smoke cleared, it took her breath away/ she said she didn’t believe, it could happen to me/I guess we’re all just one phone call from our knees/ we’re gonna get there soon/ if every building falls and all the stars fade/we’ll still be singing this song, the one they can’t take away/ gonna get there soon, she’s gonna be there too/ cryin’ in her room, prayin’ ‘Lord come through.’/we’re gonna get there soon.”

City of Black and White is chock full of lyrics such as these. Lyrics written from Mat’s personal experiences, yet that are somehow true of everybody’s experiences. Even if the music was horrible, I’d not think twice in shelling out the money for this CD just for the lyrics.

Overall: The intrinsic value of Mat’s music comes from his honest, passionate delivery. While City of Black & White is not as flawless as Nothing Left to Lose was, that is no reason to ignore this release. It deserves a place in everyone’s collection, and will earn a place in everyone’s hearts. It’s great music to help you get through whatever storms you’re going through. This review has probably sounded pretty sappy, but I don’t care. I stand by everything I said. This will be one of the best releases of the year. Go buy it.

Stand-Out Tracks:“All I Have,” “Fire & Rain,” “Closer To Love,” “Never Be Ready,” “On & On,” “Annie.”

RIYL:Paul Wright, Stephen Kellogg


Best Buy (Comes with two bonus tracks)

Or you can drive out to your local Best Buy, who has it on sale for $7.99 this week.