Mat Kearney: Nothing Left To Lose
A brainwavez.org Music Review


United States of Americaby Jase Luttrell
Posted: 1 December 2006

For once, radio's predictable programming has served a purpose: every day at 7:08am Jase's alarm clock radio goes off, signalling the dawn of a painful new workday. For about a month the lead single from Mat Kearney's CD, Nothing Left To Lose, lessened the pain. Here are his thoughts on the entire album.

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Mat Kearney: Nothing Left To LoseMat Kearney, originally from Portland, Oregon but now residing in Nashville, Tennessee, began his recording career in approximately 2003, releasing two EPs (Revive Us and West In November), and one album, Bullet, in 2004. Nothing Left To Lose is his latest effort. Though some of the songs appear on his previous discs, the new album is original, fresh, and innovative in both its style and delivery. Surprisingly, the album does not feature the sound of the typical male crooner with his acoustic guitar who sings about love. Instead, Mat's sound very generally falls into the rap/rock category, while Mat provides all vocals, raps, acoustic guitars, and piano.

The first surprise is "Undeniable", which opens the disc with a muted electric guitar and a subdued backing vocal loop. It then breaks into a steady stream of rap lyrics. Most surprisingly, this song is not about his love for a girl, but about his connection to God. This is one of the only songs that is religious, at least overtly, though this song isn't blatant about its religiosity; it is easily accessible to mainstream audiences.

"Nothing Left To Lose", the title track and first single, which woke me up every morning for a month, is radio friendly, but not pretentious. The falsetto vocals in the chorus are expertly sung and do not contain the airy, constricted feel that so many other male singers falter with. The reason I am surprised by the album is that this song, as the first single, does not contain any rapping, which the album primarily features. Listeners may be shocked when they first play this CD and hear the rap of "Undeniable", when they would most likely expect tracks more similar to "Nothing Left To Lose".

The third track, "Crashing Down", is straightforward rock, complete with interesting and artistic slide-guitar riffs. Once again, Mat creatively and confidently sings in falsetto, though not as often as he does in "Nothing Left To Lose". This is a song either about one of the loves in his life or about his relationship with God. The delineation is not clear, which is likely on purpose: Mat, as an innovative newcomer, does not want to alienate any potential listeners by falling into the precipitous genre of Christian rock.

"Girl America" is very similar to "Undeniable", both musically and in its religiosity. It begins with an electric guitar riff and a similar subdued background vocal loop. The song is about a girl trying to find herself, but courageously and defiantly avoids the trappings of life such as "the tipping of the bottle or the popping of the pill". My personal favourite line from the entire album is "it's not the circumstances that determine who you're gonna be but how you deal with these problems and pains that come your way... so I say: your deliverance is coming". While the line is not the most effusive or eloquent of all the lyrics I have heard, there is something about the force, confidence, determination, and sincerity that makes the line so appealing. Furthermore, he delivers the chorus with a smooth melodic structure that is often resounding comfortably in my head for hours at a time.

The fifth track, "In the Middle", is a pulsing, piano-based track with gentle cello accompaniment and lyrics full of colourful adjectives, such as the simple phrase "under a tangerine sky". A simple musical phrase follows every chorus, which highlights this largely autobiographical song. This musical phrase breaks the steady rhythm of the piano, as it has a tender, heart-wrenching construction that is neither contrived nor distracting. Instead, it serves as a powerful highlight to this amazing song about facing fears and finding, according to the song, "safety nets" in love.

Returning to the acoustic guitar, the album drifts seamlessly into "Can't Break Her Fall", which is reminiscent of "Nothing Left To Lose", but has a quicker tempo and maintains the rap/rock feel of the rest of the album. Again, this is a song about love and caring for a girl who needs some protection from the world, but it is not chauvinistic in its delivery. The title of the song speaks of her feelings of despair, but also his despair and inability to help someone he loves.

My favourite song is track seven: "What's A Boy To Do". Perhaps it is the line "I've been looking around for somebody to tell me who I am" that speaks volumes to me. Regardless, the immediate honesty of this line and the entire song is especially meaningful. This song departs from the use of rap in the verses and is more of the stereotypical effort expected from a male singer/songwriter. However, the song is not about love, but about finding an inner voice and attempting to define that enigmatic moment when a boy becomes a man.

The slower paced "Wait" immediately features one other line that is honest, simple, and powerful: "sometimes a crowded room can feel the most alone". "Wait" swiftly fluctuates between dark rap lines, saturnine verse lyrics, and an upbeat chorus. The song's mercurial qualities are not distracting; instead, they lend the song a certain sense of depth and display Mat's creative ability of shifting effortlessly from one emotion to the next. Performers rarely accomplish this feat effectively. Again, the idea of manhood is questioned with the line "I see a picture of a broken man inside, I've tried and tried and now there's nothing left but time".

The title track of Mat's previous release, Bullet, is track nine of this album, and is about Mat's struggles in trying to establish himself as a musician. In the song he gives his thanks and recognition to the people who stuck it through and supported him, telling him "don't give up though you've struck opposition". Just like "Girl America", the chorus to "Bullet" is flowing, memorable, and has a nearly inaudible reverberating sound in the bass line that is unique and accentuates the power of the line "I would take a bullet for you".

"All I Need" is another crooning song, the recording of which, initially, has too much reverb. The song almost sounds as if it were a live recording but the liner notes state that all of the recording happened in a variety of studios. Once again, manhood is a central theme, and is questioned in the line "you call me a boy but I'm trying to be the man". It is refreshing to hear a singer who candidly writes about the difficulty of fulfilling the role of the man in society. Too often, this idealised persona is difficult to attain, but few people address the issue.

The resounding cellos that pervade through the bass line of "All I Need" are strong, forceful, and loud, and capture the emotions perfectly, just before the song leads into an orchestra-heavy final chorus replete with drums, bass, and soaring lead guitar. Musically, this is the best song on the album, though the initial reverb is overdone.

"Renaissance" is a song that changes directions between singing and rapping quite suddenly, but is still effective. The initial verse poetically depicts a violent car crash, accentuated musically by heavy drumming and muted acoustic guitar strums. The result is powerful. The verse then melts into the chorus that is ambiguously about god or love, but is most likely about both.

"Where Do We Go From Here" is another crooner's song in which the rapping is entirely absent. The meaning of this song is not readily apparent but the experimentation with the electric piano, toy piano, and harmonium sets this song apart from the rest as explicitly innovative in its musicality.

Finally, "Won't Back Down" is about not giving up, as the title obviously expresses. It is a piano-based song, with expressive cello elements. My only complaint of this simple and beautiful song is that during the quiet bridge, Mat attempts to alter his voice to fit the emotions of the song, and in the line: "I heard the hammer drop", he only succeeds in mimicking Kermit the Frog. This quickly ruins the emotions of the song. Though he immediately recovers to fall back into the familiar and simple chorus, I still cringe or laugh every time I hear this line. The final falsetto repetitions, perfectly harmonised, float around the piano chords and end the album not on a low note or a high note, but help to create the sense that this is a sincere and innovative album.

My recommendation, should you wish to buy this album, is to buy it on iTunes (if you are able), because the liner notes are downright disappointing. The lyrics pages are nothing more impressive than a standard Word document, and they are rife with a ridiculously embarrassing amount of grammatical and spelling errors. In addition, there are only two pictures of Mat, one of which is a close-up shot of Mat's lips and stubble in sepia. Though interesting, this is not a must-have picture, unless you are someone who obsesses over Mat Kearney's pores. Despite these shortcomings, I am very glad I found this artist, and look forward to hearing his innovative talents develop further.

You can listen to streaming versions of all the tracks from Nothing Left To Lose on Mat Kearney's web site. The tracks "Girl America", "Bullet", "In The Middle", "Undeniable", "Renaissance", and "Won't Back Down" were previously released on the album Bullet (2004), which is available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk but not on iTunes.


brainwavez.org Opinion
Rating: 9/10
Key Facts (Review Copy)
Artist: Mat Kearney
Title: Nothing Left To Lose (Audio CD)
Label: Aware Records/Sony Music
Release Date: 18 April 2006
Genre: Acoustic, Hip-Hop, Pop/Rock

Track Listing:
1. Undeniable ... 04:26
2. Nothing Left To Lose ... 04:24
3. Crashing Down ... 04:14
4. Girl America ... 04:03
5. In The Middle ... 04:16
6. Can't Break Her Fall ... 03:52
7. What's A Boy To Do ... 04:02
8. Wait ... 04:38
09. Bullet ... 04:23
10. All I Need ... 04:27
11. Renaissance ... 04:49
12. Where We Gonna Go From Here ... 04:07
13. Won't Back Down ... 05:10

On The Internet
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Mat Kearney Media Files
Mat Kearney Fan Sites
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