Muscle Shoals influenced country soul from Detroit.
It is hard for aspiring musicians to get any career traction, even when they have managed to write enough songs for an album, and then manage to independently record an album and then get that album distributed physically and digitally. This is exactly the position Michigan artist Matthew James Adkins is in with his debut album, ‘Stoned On My Own’ released through Detroit’s WhistlePig Music Group, which provides a range of services to independent artists. In interviews, Matthew James Adkins has professed a lifelong love of music, but his debut album has come later in life than is the case with most new artists, and reflects his alcohol and drug issues that lead to him eventually losing his own home. The music and vocals on his debut album are in the current style of acts like Chris Stapelton and Sturgill Simpson, a point brought out in the album’s publicity material, and the country soul sound is enhanced by the use of a three-man horn section and two female backing singers.
The album kicks off with the title track ‘Stoned On My Own’ with lyrics that are about finding the inner strength to overcome adversity. Adkins has said this is the song he is most proud of, and he has framed his lyrics with a ballad adorned with harmonica and a burbling organ. Acoustic guitar starts ‘Rivers And Streams’ and then a piano comes in on a tune that echoes a gently flowing stream, and all this is supported by sometime Sturgill Simpson bassist, and Detroit musician, Chuck Bartels’ basslines. ‘May Be I Wanna Cry’ makes full use of the horns and female vocals and takes the listener right back to Muscle Shoals despite being recorded in Detroit, and is a feature track on the album. Next, we are in Louisiana for the New Orleans flavoured ‘Come Back Jimmy’ about a Tennessee drifter. We then follow Adkins on his personal journey on ‘Bittersweet’ which again starts with acoustic guitar which is gradually joined by keening electric guitar and piano for one of the better songs on the album. Adkins then offers to take others’ burdens on his own shoulders in the gospel-influenced ‘Empathy’, which features finger-clicks and a return of the horns. The fiddle is to the fore as we enter hoedown territory on ‘Shadows’. We are in up-tempo blues territory with ‘The Scarlett Rose’ that features a drum track that has a clear snap to it. ‘Stoned On My Own’ ends with a mid-tempo ballad that features Adkins soulful vocals that gradually builds with horns and backing vocals ensuring the album ends on a clear country soul note.
For an independently produced and recorded debut album Matthew James Adkins’ ‘Stoned On My Own’ certainly demonstrates enough merit for him to be given the opportunity to continue to develop and recorded another album. While there is nothing innovative about the album, the songs are well structured and are informed by personal experience which always helps his lyrics to have a real bite. The tunes are varied and chime with the current crop of popular country artists who happily mix ‘60s soul and ‘70s roots-rock with echoes of ‘70s outlaw country, so there is a potential audience out there for Adkins’ songs. The question is will Adkins get enough support to effectively tour the album and generate enough interest to be able to record a follow-up to start developing a longer-term career? That will be for listeners to ultimately decide.