In 2004, Mat Kearney released his debut, Bullet, through InPop Records. Its genius was in its acoustic-rock guitar tracks and creative lyrical delivery that, when combined, made for a catchy, unique musical experience. That blend earned him a record contract with Columbia records and in 2006 Nothing Left to Lose was released. Taking six songs from Bullet and an additional seven tracks that were a digression from his debut record earned him TV appearances and tours with Mute Math, Train, Jason Mraz, Keane and Sheryl Crow.
Having not had a new release in nearly three years and having been out of the limelight for a little while, Mat Kearney introduces us to City of Black and White, a twelve song LP with fresh new material. City of Black and White further expounds on the musical ideas from the newer tracks that were on Nothing Left to Lose and further leaves behind what made Bullet so wonderfully unique.
The album opens with "All I Have" and upon first listen it sets the tone for the record. "Well here we go at it three years later, will you help me to dream it all up again?.." reminds the listener that it has been some time since he last recorded an album. His vocals are as crisp and effortless as ever. "Fire and Rain," an epic anthem, sings of God's love never fading, disguised in the story of the prodigal son. "Closer to Love" is a reminder that we're one phone call from a tragedy, and the support that loved ones can bring. Musically, the divergence from the previous recordings is noticeable, as with any artist's musical evolution. The incorporation of more piano and some pretty catchy drum beats make up for the vocal change to straight singing. "Here We Go," another catchy vocal performance, deals with the ups and downs of friendship.
"Lifeline," a song about relying on God for survival, flows into "New York to California," a great ballad of piano and soft strings that tells a picturesque story of finding a loved one. It is eerily reminiscent of Coldplay's "Everything's Not Lost." Mat has always had a talent for writing songs that illustrate great pictures. Whether it be "Renaissance" or "Girl America," "New York to California" falls in line. "Runaway Car," a song about repentance and getting off a path that might have been a bad idea and admitting wrong decisions leads into "Never Be Ready," a song about taking risks, "We'll never be ready, if we keep waiting for the perfect time to come." "Annie," a song Kearney penned in just ten minutes, sings about a girl named Annie faced with a hard decision about leaving a bad environment. Although 180 degrees apart from "Girl America" in its slow delivery and vocal performance, the message is the same and is the closest Mat comes to a song of advocacy.
"Straight Away" is a strong track for one of the final songs on the record, and talks about being honest with others. The title track, "City of Black and White," is an acoustic folk song Kearney wrote in Istanbul, which contrasts the differences in us, but also addresses how those contrasts don't have to separate us.
All in all, Mat Kearney's third studio record, which feels like a sophomore release, has some strong tracks. Mat's voice sounds better than ever, but it lacks the uniqueness of his previous releases. While it offers some very good songs, the project doesn't quite compare as a whole to Kearney's previous work. The change in vocal style doesn't pack the same punch in painting pictures that made Bullet stand out so much. I'm afraid City of Black and White, as a sophomore release, falls below what Mat is capable of. However, his voice makes up the difference, as it's one of my personal favorite voices in the CCM industry. Regardless of its weaknesses, City of Black and White is well worth a listen and still probably remains a standout album in 2009.- Review date: 5/18/09, written by Kevin Chamberlin
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