The Matthew Shadley Band was formed in 2003 by Matthew Shadley Brauer. An established multi-instrumentalist in several Cincinnati-area bands, Brauer joined fellow guitarist and former college bandmate, Jason Scherrer, with a temporary rhythm section and the makeshift band made its debut in October of the same year, playing an acoustic set at the 5th Annual Harvest Moon Festival held at the historic Southgate House in Newport, Kentucky. Brauer and Scherrer added a more permanent rhythm section and switched to an electric presentation with Brauer on lead guitar and lead vocals. With Chuck Morgan on drums, Jason Peter on keyboards and Tom Legg on bass, the band evolved from folk-rock to a more melodic, electric guitar-driven, alt-rock sound. The band drew comparisons to music as wide-ranging as the Beatles, Buffalo Springfield, the Jayhawks, the Black Crowes, Traffic, the Mother Hips and the Wallflowers. After a long hiatus, Brauer returned to the studio in 2020 during the nationwide COVID-19 quarantine, writing and recording new music as part of the Quarantune Project with other Cincinnati-based musicians.
In 2021 he released the single "Oh, Karen," (the album’s last track) which was written during those sessions. The work has since continued with the skills of notable session musicians (Kenny Aronoff, Norm Garschke, Luke Oswald, Stefan Olofsson) and former bandmates (Jason Peter, Anthony Rich, Chris Rowell), as well as two of Bauer's daughters (Maggie and Lorelei). Emerald is Brauer’s most ambitious project to date, which features nine original songs and one cover song. It is the artist’s first full-length release since 2008 and was recorded, mixed, and mastered at Brauer's studio on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
The first track was quite entertaining – “Anime Girl” features lots of crisp, popping bass lines, funky drumbeats and soothing keyboard grooves. Lots of funk all around. Something tells me that this might have been what Warren Zevon could have sounded like if he mixed up different styles more. I don’t know, just a guess. “Remnants” opens up with what I think are subway sounds, and then goes into a jangly, piano/guitar pop style. This one reminded me of the Jayhawks in some ways and it features a great guitar solo, too. Next up is “So Far Behind” which begins with a police siren and then the band transitioning into an acoustic folk style. Also in this tune are some classic, Hammond keyboard sounds, a strong rhythm section and great vocal harmonies. This one is reminiscent of the Black Crowes. The album’s title track “Emerald” starts off low, with piano, acoustic and an early ’70 soft rock/folk sound – somewhere between The Band, Warren Zevon, Harry Chapin and Neil Young. Interesting ending too – something that sounds like a helicopter followed by a crackling fire? “In Between” has a fun groove and lots of cool wah-wah guitar sounds. Very catchy! Lyrically, the words are about getting yourself out of a hole, or more like waiting to – feeling low in the in-between parts of your life – like say, the recent covid quarantine.
“Garberville Blues” has a jangly, southern folk-rock feel, which I think would have an appealing sound for a lot of listeners. “Me and Magdalena” opens with crashing ocean waves and a lighter rock groove. Great vocal harmonies are accompanied by gorgeous guitar and piano melodies. This was one of my favorites – it made me think about driving out on the open road. Next up is “The Alderpoint (of View)” and this one to me had a socially conscious message about it. Not sure if it was the lyrics (something about Pakistan) or simply just the way the instruments were arranged and played. I think this was one of Shadley’s strongest songs on the album. “Ritornello” features very unique, ethereal sounds of piano, synth effects and loops, spacious guitar hooks and some faint singing in the background. This track was the most original sounding tune on the entire album, which set it way apart from the other songs. It’s also completely instrumental. It would be interesting to see if Brauer would record more of this kind of stuff on his next album. I think this song was done very well. The last track is called “Oh Karen” and this one had a different feel to it, too. Pretty chill – it mostly features keys and piano, alongside light acoustic guitar and softer drumbeats. This is clearly the album’s ballad tune, and its message is a sad one. A love song about wanting someone who is giving you the cold shoulder – at least for the moment.
Overall, Emerald has strong songwriting and catchy rock melodies that are great to listen to. But for some reason, the album as a whole didn’t seem cohesive to me. I’m not sure if it was the last two tracks that did it, (which were two of my favorites). In any case, give this one a try, I think you’ll enjoy it.
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