Austin, Texas has nurtured and left its mark on many fine music acts throughout history, but Randall Wheatley might be one of the most unexpected. The presence of ukulele is an important part of this song, as well as others, but it gives a distinctive element to the songwriting rather than being its defining touch, The drumming for the opener is especially strong as well and you can’t help but find the near hushed assurance of Wheatley’s vocal part of the overall appealing package. As fine as a beginning as it is, Wheatley soon outstrips the opener. “The Middles Ages”, third song on the release, has Wheatley working with a second vocalist without ever ceding too much ground to their presence. The second voice adds to the song’s musicality, however, thanks to its more conventional slant and the second vocal’s ability to capitalize on its first class vocal melody.
“Betty Goes Shopping” is a darkly comic musical tale, in some ways, but the level of significant detail Wheatley packs into the lyric is what really makes it work. He makes the song’s main character Betty come to surprising life over the course of four minutes and with musical backing that, like the lyrics, doesn’t waste a single note in search of holding the listener’s attention. Wheatley, despite his unusual delivery, is nevertheless quite capable of exploiting the drama of any given line, an undoubted result of his initial training as an actor before he took a different path. “Shrimp”, as well as later material, gives an even clearer idea about how acting has influenced his vocal work. The spoken word nature of his delivery here careens across the emotional map – he often times sounds near deranged, but there are remarkable moments of sensitivity and nuance scattered throughout the piece as well. He takes a 180 degree turn with the musical sound here, as well, but it fits the album as a whole.
“The Damages of My 6:20 Alarm” is one of my favorite moments on the release. Wheatley does an exceptional job of mixing up his approach with this number, leaning heavily on the neo-folk sound defining much of Everything Matters with roots rock echoes reverberating through some passages. His vocal is fully engaged – the phrasing is lively and obviously attentive to every word. The improbably titled “Furniture As It Relates to the Failure of Our Dreams” is very connected with the earlier “Shrimp” in terms of style, but this track arguably has a stronger poetic shine than the earlier tune and Wheatley shows off more vocal control than ever before. It isn’t a stretch to say that, as fine as the “regular” songs are, he truly seems most at home with this sort of songwriting. It’s the genuine climax for an album that ranges across the spectrum and, previous statement aside, takes on a handful of styles with equal skill and aplomb. Randall Wheatley’s Everything Matters is far different fare than what devotees of the Austin scene are, perhaps, used to, but it is nevertheless one of the richer offerings from that musical hub that you’ll hear.
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