Singer-songwriting at its most imaginative and mischievous.
Canadian Matt Patershuk, is a storyteller. A storyteller in the best traditions of the singer-songwriting genre. But this storyteller tells tales with a twinkle in his eye and the merest hint of a smile playing across his face. For his songs Patershuk reaches into his imagination and uses any trigger, maybe an old circus poster, a sliver of a news item or a delve into the past in a way that is reminiscent of, for those of us of a certain vintage, the marvellous Al Stewart.
The album often conjures up images of a lonesome cowboy strumming a guitar around a campfire under an endless star-filled sky with a horse grazing lazily in the background. Which, as it happens, is quite apt for an album that has not one but two equine driven songs at its heart. ‘Jupiter The Flying Horse’ is inspired by an old Barnum and Bailey circus poster. Patershuk uses his considerable imagination to tell the story of two horses from different sides of the track. It is described as a classic tale of rich horse/poor horse.
If ‘Jupiter’ was weird and wonderful then ‘Clever Hans’, the second of the equine duo, takes us back to turn of the 20th century Germany and the real-life tale of a horse that performed arithmetic and other intellectual tasks far beyond the grasp of the average horse. The subtle workings of the trainer are explored in Patershuk’s take on the tale.
If we add ‘The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics’ and ‘Shane MacGowan’ a song that celebrates the man’s transformation by his new dental implants then a casual onlooker might dismiss ’An Honest Effort’ as an album borne out of a mischievous and overactive imagination. But that would be doing the man a great disservice. Not all of the songs are so “out-there” and two of the highlights of the album are lovingly crafted songs that tackle altogether weightier subjects.
‘Sunny’ is written through the eyes of a woman in an unhappy and abusive relationship with a chorus that feels like a call to arms, imploring Sunny to run and save herself, that it will be ok if she can just summon the courage. ‘Stay With Me’ is about spending time with someone nearing the end of their life; of the blurring in their eyes of the past and the present, the living and the dead. This song is set apart by the silky-smooth female harmonies of Keri Latimer. Latimer features elsewhere on the album but nowhere else does she have quite the impact on a song as here. It is a gorgeous intervention that elevates this languid meditation into a thing of beauty.
Space does not allow the subject matter of every song to be dissected and scrutinised. It is enough to say that Patershuk knows how to tell a story. Whether alone around that campfire or where he employs some high-class accompaniment to vary the pace and feel of a track, the man grabs the attention. An album to be absorbed and enjoyed.