Matt Hannah – Dreamland
Matt Hannah’s first album Let the Lonely Fade received a lot of much deserved praise upon release, but his new album Dreamland outstrips that 2014 effort while still remaining part and parcel of the same artistic vision. Hannah has written and recorded ten songs diving deep into a highly individualized experience and a number of able musicians assist him in realizing the potential of this collection. The Michigan native and Minneapolis based singer/songwriter stands out in a crowded field of would be songsmiths for his distinctive musical vocabulary and songwriting that is, invariably, one half spectacular updating of traditional musical values and the other half intimate performed poetry. His vocal delivery will remind many genre devotees of the weathered tone adopted by singers like James McMurtry and Townes Van Zandt, but Matt Hannah’s singing isn’t imitative. It exists within a long tradition and Dreamland illustrates how he occupies his own particular niche.
It’s always a sign of immense confidence when a performer opens their album with the title song. The slot is key on any release – in some senses, it defines everything around it and serves as a sort of lodestar shining its light across the work’s expanse. “Dreamland” is no different. It provides a critical reference point for anyone who decides to go further and examines the album’s biggest themes with easy, but well selected, language. The album’s second track “Broken Hearts & Broken Bones” has forceful acoustic guitar playing at its foundation, but there are recurring blasts of electric guitar dropped in throughout the duration of the track. These touches add some much needed sonic theatrics to an otherwise solid song and Hannah’s voice doesn’t sound at all out of place juxtaposed against those moments. The lyrics also have a slightly hard-bitten quality they share with few of Hannah’s other musings on the album. A gossamer thin layer of keyboards brings some discreet color to “Banks of the Mississippi” and there’s some ghostly percussion laying down a rhythm, but the song is largely dominated by Hannah’s carefully handled acoustic guitar and attentive vocals.
There’s a nice bounce to “Set Free” further accentuated by a sharply phrased electric guitar line, but it’s how Hannah’s laconic vocals play off against the accompaniment that gives this song much of its musical character. The lyrics utilize some familiar tropes in a way that other songs on Dreamland do not, but Hannah’s singing makes a big difference in how those lines come off. An understated, chiming melody carries much of “The Night Is My Home”, but the evocative detail in the lyrics and Hannah’s hard won delivery are the song’s marquee elements. The percussion and electric guitar parts adorning “Different Kind of Light” help make it a different kind of song from the rest of the pack and he varies his vocal delivery accordingly depending on the band around hm. Dreamland is some heady fare, but Matt Hannah keeps it accessible throughout and distinguishes the songwriting with the same impressive intelligence that helped Let the Lonely Fade stand out from the pack.
9 out of 10 stars