Through the window of the foyer at The Drill in Lincoln, the sound of the heavy rain falling competed with the clinking of glasses and the gentle chatter of the sparse congregation that had braved the typical English weather. However by the end of the evening’s procedures the venue and its clientele had been transported to a very different climate from that of the cold and grey of Blighty to the heat and intensity of a Tennessee bar. Make that a Knoxville, Tennessee bar.
Matt Woods hails from Knoxville, Tennessee and to date has released four albums starting with ‘The Manifesto’ back in 2011 with his most recent offering being the EP, ‘Morning After’ which came out in 2020 and received a well-deserved 9/10 when reviewed by this magazine. Currently on what can be best described as a busman’s holiday Woods stopped off at a venue he first visited five years ago to treat some loyal local fans along with a few new ones to a solo acoustic performance with a set list that covered a mix of songs going right back to his debut album all the way through to a couple of brand new numbers.
The show opened with ‘A Broken Heart’ that first appeared on the debut album which recently celebrated its tenth anniversary marked by a new and updated version available to buy at the merchandise table. This was quickly followed by two numbers from the most recent album ‘Natural Disaster’ which came out in 2019, ‘Drive-Thru Town’ which Woods introduced with a word of advice to any would-be songwriters in the audience “Write what you know,” inferring how important that advice had been to him, and ‘Jailbird Song’, both tracks clearly demonstrating that even without the support of his band Woods’ is able to get right to the heart of the song filling the room with a multitude of sounds from just his voice and guitar. Subtly positioned between the two aforementioned tracks was the first of two numbers from the 2016 album ‘How To Survive’. Introduced as the one and only love song in the set, ‘Fireflies’, a hauntingly beautiful song of bittersweet heartache threw the spotlight on Woods’ vocals that have rightfully and regularly been compared to that of Chris Stapleton and as sweet and as rich as the famous whiskey from his home state. Next it was back to the opening track from the debut album ‘Days Of Walking’ suitably described as “a rambling number” before the congregation were treated to ‘Tomorrow’s All We Know’ the only track of the evening from the recent EP which resonated with all the bluesy soulful power it has as the opening track on ‘Morning After’. Woods is one of the finest new songwriters to emerge over the last decade with his skill as a wordsmith regularly drawing comparison to the blue-collared sagacity of Steve Earle and the poetic heart of Jason Isbell.
Halfway through the set saw the first of the new songs ‘Children Of The Children’ which hopefully will appear on the next album which Woods reliably informs me has been recorded but as yet has no release date, but if this and the other new song in tonight’s set, ‘Bad Man’, are anything to go by it could be his best yet and the album that finally helps him reach the audience his music so richly deserves. The only cover version throughout the sixteen strong set was from the legendary John Prine, ‘The Great Comprise’ that appeared on his sophomore album ‘Diamonds In The Rough’ with Woods paying homage to the master and never straying too far from the original version. Then it was back to his own work with ‘Cold Civil War’ a track from his most recent album before a run of songs from his debut album starting with ‘No Beer In Heaven’, the ultimate sing-along number, with Woods enthusiastically encouraging the crowd to join him, leaving the stage and getting up close and personal with the congregation so he could hear every voice. A request from the audience saw an impromptu performance of ‘A Company Town’, a song that recounts ‘The Battle of Blair Mountain’, the largest uprising in U.S. history and the largest armed uprising since the American Civil War. Known as the Coal Wars of West Virginia the five-day conflict during late August and early September 1921 resulted in the death of up to one hundred men which Woods with his poetic prowess brings vividly to life. Of course the show could not be complete without a rendition of ‘Dead Man’s Blues’ which is now seen as something of a classic of the Americana genre and a firm favourite with the fans as it brings tonight’s show to a close. Needless to say an encore was demanded and Woods dually obliged, going back to his debut album for a rousing performance of ‘Johnny Ray Dupree’, sending those in attendance to head home through the persistent rain grateful that they had chosen to spend the evening lifted across the water to the lively bars of Knoxville Tennessee thanks to the wonderful songs, singing and guitar playing of Matt Woods. Let’s hope it’s not too long before he returns to these shores, who knows, maybe with his band and a new album of songs that can take us all back to Tennessee once more.