Matt Wilson and his Orchestra
When I Was a Writer
Matt Wilson had planned a record release party for March 20th in Minneapolis for his new record. It was to be a celebration with friends, family and fans of getting When I Was a Writer out into the world. Then came the shutdowns and cancellations necessary to slow the spread of Covid-19. Matt’s been in the game for a long time. He’s a resourceful guy, so the party was moved to his home and webcams sent the performance out over the Internet. (You can watch the performance at https://youtu.be/ZnHNBLI2h4Q).
The record release show was utterly charming. You get to see his Orchestra, shoehorned into a living room. Quillan Roe sits in an easy chair plucking his banjo, Jacques Wait hovers in the back of the room with his bass and Phala Tracy is over to the left with her concert harp. They played songs off When I Was a Writer as well as songs going all the way back to Matt’s days with Trip Shakespeare. The performance makes me think of days before recorded music when friends and family would gather in the parlor, break out the instruments and entertain each other.
When I Was a Writer is a brilliant collection of bittersweet songs dealing with disappointment, doubt, resignation and acceptance. On the title track, Matt reflects on having once been a big shot on the scene, His current state is summed up in the lines, “For now I’m a no one / Can I get some drinks for you? / Maybe I should sing for you?” That world weary felling of resignation and acceptance comes up again on “Come to Nothing,” “Real Life” and “Mental Patients.” Many of the songs are introspective. On “Decent Guy,” the narrator of the song talks about believing he’s a “decent guy.” The character confesses that he may not be that good of a person. He admits that, “because as soon as I begin to talk/I make a smoke machine/castles in the sky/ the freaky machinations of a decent guy.” Matt gets at the reality that even if we try to lead a good life, it’s easy to go astray in so many ways. As he says, even “the villain in a movie role… might have been a decent guy.”
Now you might think that sounds like a real bummer of an album. It’s not. The music is calming. The banjo and harp parts are delicate and have a dreamy quality. The harmony voices cushion the impact of the harsh realities expresses in the lyrics. The overall feeling I get from the record is reassurance. The fatalism that runs through Matt’s songs are not a decent into nihilism. When I was a Writer feels the weight of failures, then shrugs it off. Things didn’t turn out how I wanted, but I’m ok with it. I’m getting on with things. I’m going to be all right.
Now, what can I get you from the bar?