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Matt Hannah: House of Illusion
by George Graham
(Rude Girl Records, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 2/9/2022)
Despite the current state of commercial pop music, light years from the folk-oriented music of a half century ago, acoustic-based singer-songwriters are not going anywhere. They proliferate and flourish among a cohort who are the sons and daughters, perhaps even the grand-kids of the generation who popularized the genre.
This week, we have standout album from a folk-influenced singer-songwriter named Matt Hannah. It’s called House of Illusion.
Matt Hannah is a native of Michigan who is based in the Minneapolis area. He released two previous albums, Let the Lonely Fade from 2014, and Dreamland released in 2017.
The new album continues in the same stylistic vein with a tasteful rootsy musical setting, lightly electric, with Hannah’s slightly world-weary but inviting vocals bringing to life his often introspective songs. He tends to write about reminiscences and little vignettes, rather than going for typical love songs, though there is some of that in there as well. He is joined by some of the musicians who were with him on his previous album, including Erik Koskinen on electric guitars, Ian Allison on bass and JT Bates on drums. Matt Patrick served as producer and engineer, and also was a multi-instrumentalist with guitars, keyboards, mandolin and bouzouki. The musical setting is easy-going and almost intimate in a way, with the contributions by the players being understated, and in service of the songs. And Hannah’s compositions are inviting, often melodic though sometimes in a melancholy way, and rather easy-going both musically and lyrically.
The album opens with My Front Door a loping, laid-back consideration of one’s circumstances. <<>>
The title track House of Illusion is one of a few songs of reminiscence on the album. Hannah and the band make this House of Illusion an inviting place. <<>>
Another especially appealing song is Sidelines about finding oneself on the sidelines in the world, but by preference. <<>>
More upbeat in sound is Lost and Found, another song about being somewhat on the outside, though this time not necessarily by preference. <<>>
Done in an acoustic setting is Last of the Flophouses with its subject being described by the title, a place in the middle of the big city, with gentrification going on around it. <<>>
About the closest thing to a love song is Searching for a Poet’s Grave, which this case, is going on a date walking through a cemetery. But given where the song takes place, the musical setting is more buoyant than funereal. <<>>
There’s a rock & roll traveling song on the album. Places of America observes similarity of places you encounter on the road around the country. <<>>
A song called Real Guitars is perhaps the epitome of the music on the album. It recalls a place where music was made with those “real guitars.” It’s especially nicely done. <<>>
The album ends with a contemplative acoustic tune Silver Lining which, as one can deduce from the title, is an encouragement to look on the bright side, despite circumstances. <<>>
House of Illusion by the new third album by Twin Cities singer-songwriter Matt Hannah, is a textbook example of a tasteful rootsy singer-songwriter record. The songs may not be terribly incisive, but they are thoughtful and generally optimistic. The musical setting is understated and the playing and arrangements are first class.
Our grade for sound quality is close to an “A.” The recording is clean and warm and in keeping with the fairly intimate atmosphere of the music. The mix has the inviting comfortable feel of the overall album.
There is no shortage of folk-influenced singer-songwriters on the scene, a couple of generations after the genre had its start. They come in all musical shapes and sizes. But despite the wide span into which the style can venture, some of the best music in the genre is often the most basic – good songs, nicely performed in an honest, tasteful setting. And Matt Hannah brings that in spades on his new album.
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