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Matthew Grimm’s Latest Album – “Songs in the Key of Your Face”

The Flip Side Revisited
Posted by kjudk1955 on 2013/8/4 8:30:00 (4310 reads)

Open in new windowOpen in new windowBy Ken Judkins

For those of you who like your rock and roll or folk-rock music with a heavy dose of social conscience, I have a strong recommendation in the form of a new album just released by Matthew Grimm: “Songs in the Key of Your Face”.

I have been a big Matthew Grimm fan for years, dating back to his days as lead singer and primary songwriter for The Hangdogs, a New York City Band that carved out a loyal following in the Americana genre (alternative country, country-rock, folk-rock) in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s in North Texas thanks to occasional play by local stations KHYI and KNON. Hangdogs songs “Hey, Janeane” and “Monopoly on the Blues” reached near-legendary status in some circles, and for good reason. And “Memo from the Head Office” from their last album “Wallace ‘48” is, in the words of one knowledgeable critic (me), simply “the best song about American culture ever written.”

The Hangdogs broke up in 2004 when Matthew moved back to his home state of Iowa to help care for his elderly parents. But his musical career has carried on, with “Songs in the Key of Your Face” being his third album since the Hangdogs days. The first two, “Dawn’s Early Apocalypse” and “Ghosts of Rock and Roll”, more than held their own. The first featured such songs as “Kill the Poor”, “St. Booze”, “Hey, Hitler”, and a very catchy song with a title that, if every instance of the “F” word were removed from the title, would leave nothing more than two commas.

“Ghosts of Rock and Roll” featured one of the greatest union-themed songs I have ever heard, “One Big Union,” an inspiring offering that compares favorably to any union song Woody Guthrie ever wrote. (And yes, I understand the gravity of that statement.)

That brings us to his latest. “Songs in the Key of Your Face” is Matthew Grimm’s most political and socially-conscious song collection yet. It features nine original songs and five covers, with the cover songs carefully chosen and brilliantly written by artists many are familiar with.

The album opens with a tribute to Woody Guthrie, adapting his 1942 list of daily resolutions into a musical call to action for Americans to fight for their rights. “Woody Guthrie’s 33rd Resolution” lists a few of the resolutions in its chorus including number “Twenty-seven, beat the fascists, Number 4, shave, Nineteen, keep Hoping Machine running, Thirty-two, make up your mind, Thirty-one, love everybody”, followed by a strong emphasis on “Number 33, Wake up and fight!”

This song is immediately followed by Matthew’s unique take on Guthrie’s classic “Union Maid”, with the twist of a new last verse added by Matthew that brings the song surprisingly up to date.

There is not a bad song on the album. One of my favorites, “Real Americans”, accurately describes the American persona, as people who are all over the cultural and political map, and who don’t conform to any political faction’s declarations about what they are: “They're dumb and profound, gay and straight, pink and brown, and, like anyone, cut ‘em they bleed….. Conformists and weirdos and losers and heroes, as good or as bad as their deeds, and most don't waste half a drop sweating what self-described Real Americans think they should be.”

I talked with Matthew for a few minutes recently, and couldn’t resist asking him about the song “My Lesbian Girlfriend”: Is it autobiographical or fantasy? It turns out it is based on two previous relationships. I decided against pressing him to go into too much detail.

My favorite song in this collection is not political at all. “Kick Ass Wake” is based on the death of a friend of Matthew’s, John Collelo, in 2007. Grimm and his friends decided their friend deserved the “most kick ass wake this burg has ever seen,” with the burg in question being Binghampton, NY. According to Matthew, it was quite the send-off: “Book the back room at McWether's, tell the band they're back together, there'll be kegs, yeggs and hookers, and no….. clergy.”

Other original songs are well worth checking out: “Back Booth”, “Go….Home, Mindy” (it describes an awkward situation with a drunk friend – most of us have been there at one time or another). “Enemies” portrays the absurdity of a political culture that places too much power in the hands of the few:

“If your enemies are social workers, EMTs and file clerks
If your enemies are librarians and road crews
If your enemy is everyone who works every day instead of
Gaming debts and savings of people who do
If your enemies drive buses and plow frozen highways,
Fix bridges and make the cities run
If your enemies are firefighters, teachers and nurses
Your enemy is everyone”

“West Allis” is as sad as any song can be, with its subject a man who commits suicide but isn’t found in his house for four years.

Anytime Matthew covers a song written by someone other than himself, he invariably makes it his own, always a unique take on the original. The five on this album are no exception. In addition to the previously-mentioned “Union Maid”, it includes Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty”, Billy Bragg’s “Ideology”, Mark Knopfler’s “Telegraph Road”, and Steve Van Zandt’s “Out of the Darkness”. All are worth a listen.

Matthew Grimm was the subject of the last column I ever wrote for the print media in May 2007. Most of you have never heard of him, and that is not just a great shame, but a pathetic reflection on the state of the music business over the past 15 years.

He is simply one of the best around, a competent musician with a unique voice that carves its own niche. He writes tunes that range from competent to superb, and occasionally catchy. But above all, he is a wordsmith extraordinaire, one of the finest lyricists who ever put pen to paper (or at least fingers to keyboard).

If you are not offended by serious, sometimes political, and occasionally irreverent songs that flash a sprinkling of obscenities and profanities (Matthew can truly be “an adult portion”, to borrow a phrase from the late, great Levon Helm), I would strongly urge you to give Matthew Grimm’s music a try.

His solo albums can be found on CD Baby, while the older Hangdogs stuff can be downloaded through Amazon or ITunes. He is worth the price of admission.

Matthew’s website:

- Rating: 10.00 (1 vote) - {$lang_ratethisnews}

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