Tales from the Canadian prairie, via bridge building, Bryan Adams and killing your dog
Ok, so this is done with the absence of any research at all, but MV reckons we’re still right. The lead song on Matt Patershuk’s third album, “Same As I Ever Have Been” is called “Sometimes You’ve Got To Do Bad Things To Do Good” and maybe, just maybe it is the first song in history of rock n roll to contain a first verse about running down a deer on a deserted road and a second about having to shoot your beloved dog after a hit and run.
That Patershuk even attempts this is bold, that he turns it into a song that is a mature discussion on pragmatism is testament to the absolute skill these songs contain.
Because the point here is this. The first time you hear these songs, you may smile. For example “Good Luck” is an almost spoken word bluesy thing about buying one of those charms you see advertised. You may laugh, as MV did at the opening line: “Well I was readin’ through the paper, alright, it was “Truth and Beauty” magazine” but listen to it again and you will see that it is a tale of working class desperation.
It is typical of “…Ever Have Been” that it does this, because Patershuk, who by day builds bridges in his native Canada, weaves his tales of the everyday in a way that others would not. “Hot Knuckle Blues” features a man who is out of work and questioning his place in society, but there’s not the bitterness here that others would invoke (“‘Bout a year back things got tough I guess, and they had to lay me off, I don’t hold no hard feelings boys, it really is no one’s fault”) but the violin here gives it a real hoedown feel which is strangely uplifting.
Not many songs are called “Memory And The First Law Of Thermodynamics”, but there is one here and it is a gorgeous folky lamentation, with a classic air. Patershuk’s deep, throaty half spoken way of singing is perfect for the feel.
Recorded with roots rock veteran Steve Dawson at Bryan Adams’ studio in Vancouver, this album sounds perfect, and there is something of the Townes Van Zandt dustbowl about “Boreal” but this is not a record that wants to be compared to anyone. Brimming with ideas too, “Blank Pages And Lost Wages” deals with writers block, “I swear if I don’t write one soon I’ll break right down and cry” he sings at one point but if he suffers from it , then it doesn’t show as the spirit of the honky tonk is invoked.
“Cheap Guitar” has a primal bluesy feel, and is enlivened further by the wonderful saxophone, and even tucking the title track right down the running order can’t hide the simple majesty of the song.
Able to find a different side to anything, perhaps because he’s an outsider? Patershuk doesn’t write like anyone else. “Atlas” starts thus: “Atlas holdin’ the world up? Aw c’mon man you know that’s just a myth, he’s sittin’ in a Grande Prairie bar called “Breakers”, with a herniated disc.” No further discussion is needed, this is wonderful stuff
Ending the record with two songs invoking birds as a metaphor for love is interesting too. “Sparrows” is the type of thing that appeared on those Elvis Country compilations, while “Swans” is a little more sprawling, almost a touch psychedelic even, the sparse backing somehow recalling Springsteen’s “Mary Queen Of Arkansas” from way back when.
Whilst he is ostensibly nothing like The Boss, Patershuk does share Springsteen’s ability to turn the everyday into the universal, but it is the poetic imagery and truly fantastic use of language that sets this apart.