It’s likely no surprise to anyone who knows me, whether in real life or via the internet, that I fucking love Matt Woods. There hasn’t been a musician whose body of work has gotten me this excited since I discovered Lucero in the mid-2000s, and that, my friends, is just about the highest praise I am capable of giving. So when his new album, With Love From Brushy Mountain (released today), was up for review here at Ninebullets, well, I threw aside my “no record reviews/interviews only” rule, sharpened my claws, and prepared myself for the inevitable fight that would ensue over who got to write it. Blood was drawn, first borns were promised, and knees were scraped (I won’t tell you how I acquired those), but, as you can see, I fucking got the review.
With Love From Brushy Mountain is, hands down, the best album Woods has put out thus far. I think it speaks to the quality of his writing and his art that there are several songs I can’t listen to unless I’m in a strong state of heart and mind, and I believe it’s because this is the most personal and vulnerable he has ever allowed himself to be on record. Sheldon Harnick, most notable for helping write Fiddler on the Roof, once said that “any successful lyricist has to be part playwright and has to be able to put himself into the minds and the hearts and the souls of the characters.” On With Love… Woods has not only done just that, but he’s done it the best he ever has, as can be both seen and heard in “Deadman’s Blues,” or, for that matter, at any one of his live performances.
“Deadman’s Blues” isn’t the only masterpiece on this album, though. “Lying on the Floor,” a song I’ve not seen anyone else mention yet, is one of my personal favorites, telling the story of a couple bonding “at the crossroads of their loneliness” to the bittersweet whine of a fiddle. “Drinking to Forget” was written by Woods’ drummer, Larry Fulford, while he was watching CMT’s countdown of “100 Greatest Drinking Songs” and thought to himself, “I want to write a drinking song good enough to maybe make a list like that one day.” That song is that attempt, and he wrote it with his buddy Rob Weddle back when they were in a band called Holidaysburg. The Waylon is strong in that tune, for sure, especially with Woods’ vocal delivery starting at the 2:16 mark. ”Tiny Anchors,” a heartbreakingly romantic song, tells the tale of a couple on the rocks: one holding on, the other being held down, and I believe it’s one of Woods more lyrically complex songs from a storytelling standpoint.
I can’t write a review of this album without mentioning its title track, “With Love From Brushy Mountain,” another fine murder ballad from Woods. (See “Johnny Ray Dupree” from Manifesto for the other.) In all honesty, it’s a song that grew on me after seeing Woods perform it multiple times over the last year or so. I don’t love murder ballads as a rule (gasp!), but even I can’t help but be moved by a line like “It’s love that put her in the ground; it’s love that put me here.”
All this being said, With Love From Brushy Mountain is, without a doubt, Essential Listening for anyone nostalgic for a time when country music was authentic and the songwriting within it was still regarded as the craft that it is… for anyone who misses the likes of Jennings and Kristofferson… and for anyone who wants to say they lived to see the day it made its comeback.