[10 May 2010]
On Matthew Houck’s (aka Phosphorescent) last all-original full length album, 2007’s Pride, Houck looked inward to his own personal struggles and chose to record the album entirely on his own. Since then, Houck has opened up a bit more, working with a full band on his 2009 Willie Nelson tribute album, To Willie, and incorporating that full band sound on his latest album, Here’s to Taking It Easy.
Opening track “It’s Hard to Be Humble (When You’re From Alabama)” serves as a perfect reminder as to why Phosphorescent can now be considered more of a band instead of Houck’s personal singer/songwriter vehicle. With lively spurts of percussion, triumphant horns, and bluesy riffs, Houck belts out a fastly-sung, tour-weary chorus of “Baby, all these cities, ain’t they all starting to look all the same?” If this chorus appeared on Pride, there’s no doubt it would have more of a melancholic tone to it, but with the wall of slide guitars, tambourine, and horns backing it, Houck has figured out a way to make even his most depressing lyrics sound uplifting. Even the swell of vocal harmonies that close out the following track “Nothing Was Stolen (Love Me Foolishly)”, further underscore the full band dynamic that Houck has achieved.
Although most of the album may appear to be positive, there are several moments that recall Houck’s darker side and his ability to write a personal song and turn it around into one with universal themes. Besides the intimate ukulele melodies on “We’ll Be Here Soon”, it’s the wistful alt-country twang of “The Mermaid Parade” that is really one of the highlights here. With lyrics such as “Our hearts were on fire / Only two weeks ago / Our bodies were like live wires / Down on a beach in Mexico,” “The Mermaid Parade” is sung from the point of view of an individual recalling a lost relationship and wondering if his ex-girlfriend is still thinking of him too, a theme that plenty of listeners can certainly relate to.
In addition to a few end of album highlights like the simple piano melody and slide guitar flourishes of “I Don’t Care If There’s Cursing” and the hazy, communal handclap vibe of “Hej, Me I’m Light”, it’s the final track, “Los Angeles”, that really stands out in all its almost nine-minute long glory. With a lingering bluesy guitar riff that is opened up by subtle percussion and piano, “Los Angeles” begins slow and gradually builds up with a surge of vocal harmonies that compliment Houck’s main vocals flawlessly. Instead of ending the album with a bang, Houck and his band weave the mesmerizing blues riff throughout the song and let the other elements of piano, slide guitar, and vocals play necessary supporting roles. Although he may be used to working with more components now than just his voice and guitar, Houck refuses to let that extra instrumentation muddle his sound, instead allowing just enough space for all the parts to coexist effortlessly together.