This exciting new series that allows us writers at AUK to turn the spotlight on an artist or band who’s quality of work we deem worthy of a wider audience may at first appear as the perfect slice of self indulgence but as usual with all these wonderful features that our august magazine offers up there is a caveat. You know the one I mean, that constant dilemma of choice. Who’s in, who’s out? Such is the nature of the music industry that it rarely rewards in proportion to talent and with the americana genre often sitting out on the margins many of its finest proponents simply operate beneath the radar of all but a small minority fortunate enough to be in the know. Thus this new and fantastic series has already given exposure to artists who wholeheartedly deserve to be championed, of whose names many of our readers may well have been unfamiliar with, and in truth we’re barely scratching the surface. For every name put forward we can quickly think of at least another dozen equally worthy candidates, so let’s hope this is a series that keeps on running.
I first came across Matt Woods as recently as this year when I noticed an advertisement for a gig he was playing in my home town of Lincoln back in April. To be honest the name did ring a few bells with me as his music had been previously reviewed in these hallowed pages, and highly praised, as my in depth research would discover. Suitably impressed with what I’d read I treated myself to a couple of his most recent albums and bought a ticket for the concert, which I reviewed in these pages back on the 9th May. To be honest that particular gig could be best described as a busman’s holiday for Woods who has stopped off at the venue he had first visited five years earlier to treat some loyal fans, as well as a few new ones, to a solo acoustic performance that completely blew me away, such was the power of his voice, his playing and his songs. Back in the USA Woods regularly plays with his backing band the Natural Disasters but this stripped back set enabled the audience to connect with the very heart of each track and become completely entranced by the visual narrative and passionate delivery. It was truly one of those, ‘you had to be there’, evenings.
Woods hails from Knoxville, Tennessee and has been a recording artist for over a dozen years starting with his debut release in 2011 ‘Manifesto’, and during my research I stumbled across a quote from a review that appeared in the AUK online magazine of that year which said “Passionate no-nonsense hard rocking country goodness…Woods has gathered together a lightning hot band that gives these songs some raw adrenaline and propulsion, and the whole record a sense of purpose. Anyone who has ever enjoyed Steve Earle, Drive By Truckers, Bob Collum or Springsteen has much to enjoy here”. Unfortunately I don’t know who’s sagacious words these belong to though I do wish I had been a subscriber to these hallowed pages back then and discovered this wonderful album a full decade earlier than I have.
Since his debut Woods has released three more albums plus an EP, all continuing to receive the highest critical praise. His sophomore album ‘With Love From Brushy Mountain’ (2014) is stuffed full of americana classics whilst ‘No Depression’ magazine stated, “Like Jason Isbell, Woods is in the vanguard of a country music’s feisty new generation. And in ‘With Love From Brushy Mountain’, he’s helping set the standard”. Among the jewels on this album is ‘Deadman’s Blues’, which has become considered one of his finest songs by fans and critics. He followed this with ‘How To Survive’ (2016) which when reviewed by Dave Clarke for these pages he claimed to be “bowled over” by track two ‘Fireflies’. Woods most recent album ‘Natural Disaster’, was again blessed with some wonderful songs while in 2020 he released the EP, ‘Morning After’, where during her highly positive review AUK’s Helen Jones wrote “Woods has such a captivating, magnetic voice filled with passion, it’s hard not to draw parallels to the now hugely successful Chris Stapleton”.
So, there you have it. If you share a passion for the blue collared songwriting of the the likes of Steve Earle, Jason Isbell, and Rod Picott delivered with a voice comparable with that of Chris Stapleton, and lets be honest if your a regular reader to these pages that’s got to be you, and Matt Woods is a name that up until now has slipped under your radar, give yourself an early Christmas present and indulge in the tracks below using it as a stepping stone to better familiarise yourself with an artist most worthy of a wider audience. I’m confident you won’t be disappointed.