This wonderful record from the Virginian troubadour is bathed in the warm sunlight of southern soul but bristling with strange angles and suprises
Released in the US last year, Matthew E. White’s wonderful melange of southern soul and gospel blues makes its way over here in time to warm your soul on these deep, dark January nights. White is the 29-year-old son of Christian Missionaries and keen indie observers may know him from his affiliation with The Mountain Goats. Big Inner was recorded in his attic in Richmond, Virginia and it weaves its way with a graceful sound that has the same suffusion of warmth and elegance as Cat Power’s album The Greatest and Lambchop’s twilight, country-inflected soul.
There is much talk of Jesus on Big Inner but you wonder if this is a vintage prop or a genuine feeling from White. No matter because love conquers all here - On One of These Days, he's clearly besotted and puppy-eyed by romance or at least the idea of romance. Big Love manages to sound like a cut from Dusty in Memphis shot through with modern discord, a zig-zagging Steve Cropper-style guitar, vibes, crashing percussion and a bass line that just won’t quit. Elsewhere, Hot Toddies paints a picture of frosted windows, a roaring fire and drams of the titular lubricant with violins and piano before shifting gear into a minimalistic near-funk groove punctuated by weird-brain bleats of sax and abruptly-struck hi hats.
It sounds in places like a classic Stax album only slowed down even more to a majestic pace so that every nuance can be savoured. Indeed, one of best songs here is called Steady Pace but, with its lovely ducking and diving rhythm, it’s actually one of the more upbeat tracks on Big Inner. The arrival of a beatific choir on the sweetly-lowing Brazos is another fine example of how White springs well-timed surprises throughout. Fat brass works away in the background but like everything here, it’s kept at a warm simmer. Nothing is overcooked. Big Inner may betray its influences like crumbs in White’s impressive beard, but it's an altogether wholesome and spiritually-cleansing experience.