Striking Matches have developed what is certainly an exciting first step in the right direction, cementing their album as one of the most solid full-length country debuts of the year so far.
Following national recognition after their tune “When the Right One Comes Along” was featured on the hit ABC drama Nashville, country duo Striking Matches, comprised of Sarah Zimmerman and Justin Davis, have made their first ever full studio LP debut in the form of Nothing But the Silence. While named after a titular track fixed unto the record, a strike of irony can still be felt in its title, given that the album is largely anything but silent. While Zimmerman and Davis take a few breaks from up-tempo rockers here and there, Nothing But the Silence is largely a record comprised of conscious party songs. By “conscious”, this is to say that, while still maintaining the high octane delivery of most songs on country radio, the two manage to deliver a lyric with meaning and engage in actually individualistic musical acts across their rocking set.
Produced by the acclaimed T-Bone Burnett, who in recent times has also been responsible for the production of critically lauded albums like Rhiannon Giddens’ Water Boy and the soundtrack to Inside Llewyn Davis, Nothing But the Silence marks a strong departure from the roots-ridden bluegrass and folk sounds grounded in a more traditional basis. While it’s true that Zimmerman and Davis still both wield the staple of conventional Americana music in their pair of acoustic guitars, they showcase an ability to jam on their instruments at blistering lengths, as though they were part of an act that was totally electric. Backed by a more modern country instrumentation on more than one occasion, as well, comprised of a drum kit, electric guitar and bass, the two go out on a limb to offer up the idea that they aren’t just another folk outlet, but that they aren’t just another country outlet either, given their moral code of offering up a series of stories that doesn’t revolve around trucks and beer.
The strongest asset that Zimmerman and Davis maintain throughout each of the 11 tracks of which Nothing But the Silence is comprised is the indelible fact that they are masters of maintaining an actual duet, all with a bizarre adaptability to the way that they offer their vocals to each separate song. Beyond mere harmonies, at which they each respectfully excel, the two often exchange leads and verses in order to more effectively tell a story of love or heartbreak, according to schematics intrinsically ingrained into their performance style. A few blazing electric guitar solos here, a few surprisingly fast-paced strums of an acoustic there, and they have a style steeped within modern country that still manages to both embrace the past and offer something different to the table altogether. At their best, they’re radio-ready forces to be reckoned with, while offering something more than what most country singles in the now do, with songs like “Trouble is as Trouble Does” and “Hanging on a Lie” proving this forthrightly.
There are a few lulls on the record that keep it from being one of the topmost recommendations of the year, such as a mild over-repetition of the chorus on songs like title track “Nothing But the Silence”, and an overall retreading of themes regarding separate takes on a love story that remain just fresh enough for a memorable first listen. The almost always-blazing representation of the record is one of the band's best benefits, given their rougher rock-flavored edges, but also starts to feel somewhat predictable by album's end. However, compared to the dreck of what country is now, they’re golden, and for the most part, they’re still pretty recommendable. Striking Matches have developed what is certainly an exciting first step in the right direction, cementing themselves as one of the most solid full-length country debuts of the year so far. The only question that needs answering now is how they will expand upon the strong blueprint set out in their debut, and how they will handle not letting the flame that they lit fizzle out in the form of a sophomore slump.