In a menacing, bluesy lurch it takes Matt Smith’s World approximately seventeen seconds to tell us everything we need to know about their new album Live at the Saxon Pub in “Jazzhaus,” one of my favorite excerpts from the ten-song tracklist. From the experimental fuzz of “Jazzhaus” to the overwhelming blues beat of “What Will I Do Without You” and colorful “Love the One You’re With,” Smith leads his collective into battle with the mundane sounds of a jaded mainstream and emerges sounding more Austin than a lot of his contemporaries have in years (in a good way, mind you). Mixing blues with jazz, classic rock overdrive and a trademark smoky vocal that is his and his alone, the gives us the live album that 2020 desperately needed.
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“Struggle On” gets the tracklist going with a hedonistic harmony between the sax and keys that references some of Smith’s old school influences, but much like the swaggering “Six Degrees of Separation,” the band’s performance never allows for even a second of audio here to sound even remotely throwback-ish. As much as this is the namesake’s show and spotlight to own, he never has an issue turning some of the attention over to the drums or individual melodic components if it means maximizing the emotion behind a specific lyric. You could accuse him of being a little rebellious against the pop music model as it stands in 2020, but in my book, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that at all.
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The guitar-centric material in Live at the Saxon Pub was definitely the most memorable for me, with “Simple Song” in particular standing out as a wonderful example of Smith’s skills as a player in addition to his vocal abilities. “Junkie for Your Love” and “Hot Club of Brooklyn” are too eclectic to draw our attention towards specific elements within the mix — which, I might add, is one of the cleaner I’ve heard in a rock crossover record this year — but I wouldn’t say anything here sounds cluttered or unfocused. Even at its most chaotic, there’s a sense of self-control guiding every composition in this tracklist, which is a lot more than I can say for some of the similarly-structured content making a splash on the mainstream side of the dial this year.
Whether it’s the raw melodic crunch of “Walk the Talk” or extended band freak-outs like “Dance with Me,” you’re not likely to listen to Live at the Saxon Pub in its entirety without reacting to something in its ten amazingly accessible songs. Live albums can be particularly difficult to record, especially if you’re trying to maintain the natural energy of a show while still delivering something polished and palatable to your core audience, and on this occasion I think it was really smart of Matt Smith’s World to go with more of a stripped-down, hands-off approach to the production style. This is as close to the real thing as it gets, and for my money, it’s an unmissable treat this fall.