One part Jeff Buckley, one part Neil Young, and one part Wayne Coyne, Luke Temple is responsible for the surprise of the year thus far.
Far be it from me to call someone or something "The Next Big Thing". But if I had my way...
Actually, Luke Temple is too humble to actually make a dent in a crowded marketplace as "The Next Big Thing". Well, scratch that, too -- I don't know the man, I'm not qualified to make any comment on the humility or ego that Mr. Temple possesses. He could well think he's the best thing since the invention of the guitar, for all I know. His music, though... there's no mistaking the air of humility that peers through his music. Part of it is his constant awareness of a presence larger than he, part of it his high-pitched voice, high-pitched and smooth in timbre, and ultimately very small-sounding, particularly in contrast to the constant "bigger is better" of the modern music hype machine. It's very likely that you could arm Temple with all the producers in the world, the best session band money could buy, and a 30-piece orchestra (you know, for color), and Temple's songs would still sound small.
Now, I'm pretty sure it was Piglet who taught me just how "big" little things can be, but it's a lesson I often forget. Luke Temple's debut album, Hold a Match for a Gasoline World, had to sneak up on me. Opener "Someone Somewhere" sounded like a pleasant, upbeat little ditty, two minutes of fluff to lead off what would ultimately be a fluffy, pleasant album. Armed with my preconceptions, I would promptly relegate the rest of the album to the background.
It would take a listen in which I started on track three for the true beauty of Hold a Match for a Gasoline World to find me.
While "Someone Somewhere" is meant to catch you, the rest of the album is a slow burn, ready to envelop you in a web of beauty and observation. "Make Right With You" fingerpicks its way to pleasantry, with lovely lyrics that expand their scope with every verse -- at first, it's a personal tale of reconciliation as the title would indicate, but before the song is over, Temple has "made right" with man and, ultimately, God, the last inspired by a car crash whose description is shocking in such benign surroundings if you're not expecting it. But then it's "In the End" that truly exemplifies what Hold a Match for a Gasoline World is about. On the surface, it's the typical sort of song that you'd expect to hear from an aspiring singer-songwriter, mid-tempo with a steady 4/4 beat and some electric guitar flourishes.
Yet even as Temple reflects on the mortality that the title so obviously suggests, he's an optimist and a romantic. Try this line on for size:
"When I look at the clouds / Sometimes I see angels / The wind just a breeze off their wings..."
Or perhaps this one:
"In the end, dear / Though the road was long and tough / The light in you will shine above..."
I mean, they're just beautiful images, delivered in that pure, peerless crystal-clear tenor. And the whole album's like that, an album-length study in wide-eyed wonder that stares as far outward as it does inward. "See that open road / I know I'll take it / Try and slip through this city's grip / I've tried, I've tried, but why?," asks Temple on the lovely, Beatles-esque "Old New York", and it's a plea to stop and love where you are, love what you've got. Even on a song like "Private Shipwreck", Temple compares his life to the title, but talk of "rising from the ashes" permeates the very next line. This is a man that just can't be kept down, even as he watches the toil and downfall of those around him. It's positively empowering.
If it were just the words, however, Hold a Match for a Gasoline World wouldn't be nearly as affecting -- Temple happens to know exactly what to add to a song to allow it to pass the threshold from "nice" into "wonderful". "Get Deep, Get Close" breaks up a quick shuffle with a woodwind quartet that plays something completely unrelated to the rest of the song, yet it just seems to fit. "Old New York" allows Temple the chance to multi-track some exquisite three-part harmonies onto himself. "Make Right With You" features an instrumental break that juxtaposes a slow, Norah Jones-ish piano line with the fast fingerpicking. And it all just works. It's not a new sound, and it doesn't vary all that much as the album progresses, but every song has something special attached to it, however subtle, that sets it apart from the rest of the album.
Here comes the cop-out: Descriptions couldn't possibly do Luke Temple's little album justice -- you really do have to hear it.
So hear it.