Friday, May 22, 2015


An Eleven Track Album Exploring Loss, Discovery, Sacrifice and Redemption.

Matt Lax (a.k.a. Lacques--brother of I See Hawks In LA's Paul Lacques) grew up all over California and Texas in the 1970s, and lived in Austin, TX in the early 80’s in the prime of its songwriter heyday. Finally settling in the San Francisco area in the mid-80’s, Matt ensconced himself in the African music scene and joined the band, Zulu Spear; with whom he wrote and played for 10 years. Matt penned the band’s title song for their 1991 Capitol Records release Welcome to the USA. Matt began his solo recording career in 1998 and formed the band Matt Lax and Nearly Beloved. Their first release, Wanderer’s Dream, was an album of heartfelt torch songs with an all-acoustic lineup. In 2002 Matt Lax and Nearly Beloved released the afro-billy inspired Hurricane and Tumbleweed. In 2012 Matt and the band released Where's Bob to much critical acclaim. Matt and Nearly Beloved have just released This House of Mine, an all acoustic effort which brings them back to the heartfelt simplicity of their first album. Matt currently splits his time between playing with Zulu Spear, Nearly Beloved, and teaching at Juvenile Hall in San Francisco.

“Check out This House of Mine by Matt Lax and Nearly Beloved. A careful listener can definitely hear the influences of such Joseph Spence, Doc Watson and Nick Drake no doubt among others. The release is an interesting amalgam of blues, country, traditional folk with the West African and South African Township styles Lax learned as a longtime member of the afro-pop band Zulu Spear.” —AXS online magazine
The prevalent theme that runs through This House Of Mine, Matt Lax & Nearly Beloved’s 4th CD, is that of souls - souls lost, souls found, souls sacrificed, souls that search for redemption and brave souls that briefly 'stir together with the wind' as an illusive and temporal reward for navigating life’s perils with both your soul and you soul mate intact. This House of Mine's plush soundscape of guitars, fiddle, banjo and bass, rich harmony and intimate vocals explore empty rooms and mythic landscapes where souls are either '…seeking to be soothed', as in "Sing Me Along" or hoping for a peaceful resting place, as in the palm wine music inspired "Sing A Song For Us". In the songs "Awakening", and "What The Morning’s For", there is ample expression of love that is to be savored and succored, while the title of "In This World" hints of reward in a world beyond - In a song about keeping the spark of love alive while we erstwhile 'serve all mankind'.

Such unbridled altruism may seem like a departure to fans familiar with Nearly Beloved, but close listening of their earlier efforts reveals several examples of simple and honest love songs nestled between some of Matt’s more satirical and stylized musings. The band’s last 2 CD’s, "A Hurricane & A Tumbleweed", and "Where’s Bob", are indeed more adventuresome both in musical and thematic range; while "Wanderer’s Dream" and "This House Of Mine" bookend the band’s 22 year span with song selections and arrangements that are more unified in feeling, theme, and sound.

Finger style guitar and frailing banjo are the musical mainstays of "House Of Mine" as the songs invoke not only American blues, country, soul, and folk music, but South African township and West African palm wine music as well. Musical coherence for these far-flung styles is achieved simply through the omission of drums and percussion. “As pickers, we’re often changing how and what we play to accommodate drums at rowdy club venues after doing a string of café and small venue gigs without drums”, says Lax. “When it came time to record this CD, we wanted all the intricacy of the guitars and banjo to be heard, and we wanted the integrity of each song’s style to live uncompromised by any choice of cadence by the drummer”.

While Matt’s own singing and guitar work have never been better represented than in this collection of songs, the influence of guitar originators like Mississippi John Hurt, Joseph Spence, Doc Watson, Nick Drake, palm wine godfather SE Rogie and township master Ray Phiri are lurking just below the fret board throughout the CD. Lax’s knowledge and respect for these masters is echoed aptly by his band mates Erik Pearson (guitars, banjo, upright bass), Michael Stadler (guitars, fiddle, mandolin, cello), and rock-solid bassist Paul Olguin. Stadler, a highly accomplished guitarist in his own right (he can be heard featured on a compilation of style innovators called 'Claw Hammer Guitar'), while Pearson’s long love affair with claw hammer banjo style has made him a mainstay with San Francisco’s old timey innovators The Crooked Jades, and led to his tenure as the banjo teacher to the late Warren Hellman, founder of The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.

Most of the CD tracks feature just the four band members recorded live over two days at Laughing Tiger Studios in San Rafael. Subsequent vocals, horns, cello, accordion and penny whistle were added to the basic tracks slowly over the course of the next year. "It Just Happens" features a vocal duet with Loralee Christensen and Mike Rinta’s Memphis-inspired horn arrangements. "Astronauts & Fishermen" is augmented by Richie Lawrence’s accordion and Adam Beach’s penny whistle, featured on a fine breakdown with Stadler’s claw hammer guitar as they linger momentarily on the traditional Irish tune "The Kesh" before returning to the song’s African-inspired 6/8 meter. Electric guitar is supplied mostly by Erik Pearson, whose shimmering tremolo-laced sound fills the soundscape with George Harrison-inspired arpeggios and Richard Thompson-like jabs. Lax’s sole electric guitar effort on "My Soul’s Intention" is reminiscent of both Ray Phiri and Chet Atkins, no doubt from years of listening to both Mahlatini and the Mahatella Queens and The Louvin Brothers. “I find twang everywhere”, surmises Lax. The more pop-inspired tracks are "Going Out Of Her Mind", "Without You", and the title track, "This House Of Mine". Here the band are at their most straight-forward with songs of unrequited love and in "House Of Mine", the sum of one’s life revealed in the metaphor of a house that is easily afforded but unfit for companionship.

There is a fossil-encrusted image underlying a photo of Matt on the CD’s inset. It’s from a vacation photo Matt took of a table top at Deetjen’s Inn in Big Sur, California. The image speaks not only of the temporal worlds that This House Of Mine explores, but the overlay of lives that fill our conscious thoughts. Another thought resonates as well. “We may well be fossils in the way we approach making music. We want to make a complete musical statement that you can live an hour of your life with, hopefully more than just once”. If people will grant themselves the time, there is a big payoff to be had by listening to this CD.

You can purchase this great album from here:

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