In today’s frivolous world of Spike TV and Maxim magazine, it’s easy to lose sight of the responsibility that comes with being a grown man. Country musician Matt Stillwell, on his self-released debut, Take It All In, wants to remind all the men out there that being a good man / father / husband takes hard work. And while Stillwell occasionally lapses into overpiousness, he manages to find time to have a little fun, too. For instance, three songs about asking God for direction may be too many for your taste, but for much of Stilwell’s audience, tunes like “On My Own”, “Trying To Get To Heaven”, and “What I Do” are exactly the confirmation they need that they’re on the right path. And with the arrangement of guitar, fiddle, and mandolin, the songs are more Chevy commercial than church hymn. There’s plenty of man-woman songs, too: “Good Hands”‘s narrator asks his girlfriend’s dad for permission to marry her. He swoons over his wife’s feminine charms on the intimate “Surrender” (a nice reminder that it’s possible to be both religious and sexual), and leaves, but goes back to the girl on the single “Turn Around”—both a road song, and a girl song. Stillwell, an ex-collegiate baseball player, knocks the upbeat song out of the park. He’s got an ear for the sour side of love, as well—“What Happened” and “The Motions” (“She deserves better and so do I”) ring as true as the love songs do. And lest this all get too heavy, Stillwell lets his hair down on “Moonshine”; in fact, one wishes there were a few more loose-limbed tunes like it (“It can heal the sick or start a fire real quick”). Stillwell won’t convert non-country fans to the fold, but fans who are tired/ alienated by the genre’s hyper-masculine image may appreciate Stillwell’s more nuanced view.
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// Notes from the Road
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