Summer Tonight

While there’s always been a roots component in Matt Keating’s songs, the emphasis on hooks and melodies have yielded comparisons mostly to indie pop-rockers such as Big Star and Matthew Sweet. With his new album, the New York-based Keating takes a giant step into the backwoods. Sparsely arranged and spiced with banjo, fiddle and lap steel, Summer Tonight cranks down both wattage and tempo to emit an intimate campfire glow.

“Who Knew”, the opening track, sets the tone. Framed by brushed drums, strummy guitars, and languid harmonica, Keating offers up a prayerful rumination in a soothing heartland drawl. Similar moments include the wistful “Somebody”, the pedal-steel-driven title track (which features Floyd Cramer-style piano from Keating), and a down-on-my-luck lament titled “Wish I Was Gold” that has the flavor of a country standard. All of those songs feature backing vocals from Keating’s wife Emily Spray, whose angelic soprano bears a striking resemblance to that of Emmylou Harris.

Keating does ratchet up the pace on occasion. “Waiting For Memories” teems with sunny exuberance and open-road possibilities, and “Sit Down At The Table” boasts a honky-tonk swagger worthy of the Derailers. A bonus-track duet with Patty Griffin (“No Do Without”) sends Summer Tonight off on an affirmative note. In the end, however, such moments stand in stark contrast to the album’s meditative tone and broken-glass themes.

— No Depression

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