Let’s face it, being the opening act on a show is a pretty thankless job. Yes, it does give an artist an opportunity to reach an audience that she otherwise could not reach, but more often than not, that audience doesn’t care to listen. It’s rare indeed when an opening act manages to cut through the ennui (and sometimes outright hostility) and impress an audience. So a couple of years ago when I went to Atlantic City to see Justin Currie on his first solo US tour a couple, I really had no expectations, and even less interest in the opening act, a singer/songwriter by the name of Angie Mattson. As you’ve probably figured out by now, it turned out to be one of those rare nights. Mattson delivered a memorable set under difficult circumstances, and made a bunch of new fans.
Since that night I’ve been wondering what Mattson would do next, and now the answer has come in the form of her new album Skeleton Arm (Shut Eye Records). I would like to say that the album finds Mattson delivering on the promise of that night in Atlantic City, but I can only do that with reservations. The biggest problem I have with the album is that all of the songs are taken at more or less the same languid pace, and despite the album’s brevity (just seven songs and less than 30 minutes in length), the moodiness begins to get old.
That reservation aside, the news is all good. From the opening rattle, followed by tribal drums that might have been borrowed from Joni Mitchell’s “The Jungle Line,” Angie Mattson proves herself to be an artist who is willing to take chances. That first song, “Bravery”, features my favorite guitar solo of the year. It’s a distorted, squalling, out of time mess, and it works perfectly. In fact, the guitar playing by Jeff Mendel (who produced the album with Mattson) and Mattson herself is compelling throughout. Elsewhere, flashes of acoustic slide guitar light up the dark and ominous “Mississippi,” and snatches of harmonica illuminate the bluesy “Cool Water.”
It’s all delivered by Mattson in a husky voice that serves her torn from the heart lyrics perfectly. This is music that would be right at home on a dimly lit stage in a smoky club (if such a thing existed anymore). The arrangements and instrumentation are inventive, though next time out I would like to hear a little more diversity in the material. Angie Mattson is an artist to watch.