D-Sides And Demo Tapes
Matt Wade is one of those artists that has somehow escaped my clutches up until now. Researching Wade was an interesting process and told me a lot about why his new record, D-Sides And Demo Tapes, stands so far apart from a lot of local artists.
This record wasn’t just tossed together with the same handful of Asbury musicians that are apparently becoming the Jersey shore version of Muscle Shoals. Wade handpicked his musicians based not only on their performance capabilities but also their understanding of his musical direction and insistence on getting it to sound original and right. The release date of this disc had been pushed back a number of times simply because Wade didn’t feel it was quite finished. That takes courage when the pressure of cutting corners is on you. Release shows, press, fans and any number of things have made great artists throw caution to the wind, releasing something before they were sure, only to regret jumping the gun down the road.
Sometimes you get lucky and that turns out okay, but most times you’ll end up cringing every time someone plays your CD, and who needs to deal with that after laying out your entire 401k to record it? D-Sides And Demo Tapes clicks like clockwork, taking the listener on a wild ride through Wade’s carousel mind.
Matt Wade started at a very early age and he has a quirky tale of how he came to be who he is. Sitting at his grandmother’s player piano when he was three, Wade would memorize the punch-hole positions of the player rolls, notes and sounds till eventually, like some crazy little savant, he started playing them all on his own. That beginning led to countless garage bands and school performances as Wade became a songwriter, penning hundreds of tunes and tucking them away for future perusal.
Shy by nature, Wade is the proverbial wallflower that has come to life in a time all his own. While D-Sides And Demo Tapes is not his first outing (he released a self-titled disc in 2009), it is his first focused disc that covers a lot of stylish ground without sounding jagged and confused.
Wade’s piano style could be best described as the barrelhouse barrage of Billy Joel, the rolling grace of Ben Folds and the savage sustain of John Lennon. “Waste Of Time” breaks straight out of 1973 as Wade spirals down through a gritty guitar, organ and drum roll intro that lands in a vamped-out verse and a really eerie Stevie Wonder vocal tone. Piano and B3 runs splash down over tight, thunderous drums and bass as Wade conducts the whole thing like some bizarre Dr. Parnassus. Guest player Charlie McDonald shows the correct way to throw a trumpet into a verse tag without sounding like Madness or Chicago.
Matt switches gears with the drum machine tick of “Love Isn’t Everything.” The techno rhythm mix of bass drum and handclaps actually makes sense and didn’t make me cringe for the first time in ages. Sparse and dynamic, Wade stacks smooth organs on top of synths, piano and vocals without losing the melody or the theme. The piano bridge flows back into the verses as Wade pushes this R&B flavored track with chameleon-like appeal. Synths, background vocal effects and that ‘80s Tears For Fears-vibe makes this song a radio-friendly choice immediately.
The bouncy and breezy sound of “This Bird Don’t Fly” betrays the lethal lyrical content that addresses the age-old problem of relationships. I love the line, “Do you need a friend?/ Is there someone else around that you can call? Cause the last thing I need, is to talk to you/ Cause all you do is bust my balls.” Ah, isn’t that the truth? For a shy guy, Wade has no problem telling his lyrical subject, “I’ll tell you where you can shove that thorny crown.” Staccato piano hits roll into radio friendly choruses lined with pristine backing vocals, tasty drums and bass before exploding into a free-form jazz jam at 2:53 on the song. This song is impressive, ballsy, cynical and seamless. It showcases Wade’s Billy Joel-meets-Stevie Wonder blend like a diamond in a custom-fit setting.
Other standouts were “I’ve Been Drinking,” a soft and solace parade of piano and vocal that rises into a laid back golden chorus before bringing the band into verse two. Special guest guitarist Matt O’Ree is immediately recognizable with his Dickie Betts/Charlie Sexton groove. O’Ree hangs back until the bridge, where he breaks out and makes this song roar like a beast. Wade’s vocal rides the pipeline of this mid-tempo drinking gem with easy and original style.
“Cross My Heart” features the horn section of Paul Vinci, Charlie McDonald and Emily McDonald. Their combined sound is dark, reverent and sparkling. It supports the chorus quite well. Blending with Wade’s vocal trail offs, they steer this song straight into Wade’s church-styled organs and synth attacks. Once again, the drumming of Lew Rosengrant mixes easily with Colin Thompson’s dynamic bass attack.
The pop-infused “I Wanna Be On The Radio” bounces with the smart tempo of guest drummer Skip Robinson as Wade alternates between bell clear vocal tone and studio distortion, using the effect wisely and sparingly to get his point across. The lyrics generate the hopes and disappointment that all musicians experience from time to time. Wade isn’t a wallflower here either as he tells you, “If I gave up my dreams, would you laugh at me?/ Call me a has-been?/ The more I look away, the more I want to know, what the hell’s it gonna take?/ What do I have to show?/ I want to be on the radio, not just a star of some puppet show.”
He finishes up this nine-song whirlwind with a fuzzy little piano and vocal demo recorded at home. With its “Let In Be” down-stroked vibe, Wade brings cellos into the mix, dodging the slow-swept strings with his fender Rhoads sparkle and tremolo elegance.
I really enjoyed D-Sides And Demo Tapes. It’s always a pleasure to get lost in a writing project that finishes with me looking up from my computer and saying, “Wow, where have I been for the last two hours?” That’s what this record does to the listener; it immerses you in the disc’s “trip around his world,” dropping you off at the platform of original departure and leaving you wanting to get back onboard again. A great job from one of our brightest new hopes. Go catch Matt Wade live at Point Pleasant’s Festival Of The Sea on Sept. 20, and for more info on D-Sides And Demo Tapes head over to mattwademusic.com.