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Red Matter’s “Northbound Train” 

Red Matter’s Northbound Train is the new ten-track release from the Greenwich, Connecticut jam band par excellence. The seven members of Red Matter are fixtures of the East Coast music scene, but their songwriting and vibrant performances beg for a larger global audience. Strands of The Grateful Dead and Phish are audible in the album opener “Light of the Moon”, but distinctions are as well. They have their own lyric allure that carves out a distinctive niche for the band rather than mining well-worn imagery and subject matter for their compositions. They can likewise call upon four of their seven members for vocals, an invaluable utility for the unit in the studio and concert. The interplay of voices pairs well with the band’s instrumental chops from the first.

It’s the band’s studio debut, but you can’t tell. Over two hundred and fifty live appearances in recent years have honed their music to a razor-sharp edge. The jazzy introduction and high style of “Hole in My Heart” make it abundantly clear. Milo Barer’s luminous voice leads the way during this track, but secondary vocal contributions reinforce her performance as well. The irrepressible pulse provided by percussionist Aaron Hagele and drummer JP Geoghegan is essential.

“Jokers’ Wild” is a worthy single. Barer delivers one of the album’s best vocals, equal part soul and sultriness, while lead guitarist Geoff Schneider leaves his mark on the cut as well. His warm tone underlines the melody and outright lyricism rife in his playing. Red Matter’s seemingly effortless ability to evoke atmosphere without relying on cheap gimmickry serves them well here. The title song fuses bluesy power with a palpable funky flair. The song’s energy ebbs and flows without ever sounding lax for a single second and the interchanging vocals give the performance an irreplaceably well-rounded character.

“Burn Out Bright” is a song with obvious potential for stretching out during live performances. It’s the album’s longest track at a little over eleven minutes long, but the band’s tireless imagination makes it seem half that duration. It breezes by with inspired musicality. Many listeners will, once again, hear the influence of The Grateful Dead present in this song, but it’s far from a talented pastiche. Even a single listen to the performance will convince you the band stands on its own despite whatever artistic debts they owe to its progenitors.

The intimacy of the release continues with its penultimate song “Cool My Bones”. One of the chief distinctions of Northbound Train is how the band sounds as if they are in your living room and performing for an audience of one. “Cool My Bones” accentuates that quality more than most.  Its fleet-footed tempo carries you away without ever rushing the song. They conclude the album with another extended piece entitled “Huddled Masses”.

It merges piercing lead guitar, emotive vocal harmonies, and a dramatic arrangement for one of the album’s finest moments. Don’t underestimate their lyrical acumen as well. Red Matter’s Northbound Train opens a new chapter for this northeastern septet and you can rest assured they will capitalize on the opportunities it provides. 

Mindy McCall



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