Matt Patershuk's debut "Outside the Lights of Town" was a welcome surprise in 2013. A reminder of what country music has forgotten - nature, experience and the complexity of relationships - "Outside the Lights of Town" provided hints of what has bloomed on "I Was So Fond of You."
Full-voiced, Patershuk comes from northern Alberta, a place about as far removed from corporate Nashville gloss as one will find and still be in North America. Recording again with roots veteran Steve Dawson, Patershuk has delivered an unvarnished, personal portrait of modern society.
Inspired by and dedicated to his sister Clare, killed by a drunk driver as his previous album was unveiled, "I Was So Fond of You" seeks to make sense of places and people intersecting in unforeseen circumstances. Not unlike Guy Clark, John Prine and Townes Van Zandt in previous decades, Patershuk combines vocal heft and artful vision to create convincing scenarios simultaneously unimaginable. "Harviestown" explores retribution for senseless murder for which the protagonist "won't need that gun." One is aware that the act will afford a sacred, personal cost as he seeks revenge.
Without having heard Patershuk, one can be forgiven to think comparisons to Clark, Prine, Van Zandt - add in Hayes Carll, Sturgill Simpson and Robbie Fulks if you like - hyperbolic. They won't after a listen.
Without losing sight that each of us experience loss individually, the title track explores the shattering impact sudden death has on those left behind. Without resorting to contrived sentimentality or cliché, Patershuk reveals devastation. With associated themes in "Mean Coyotes" and "Little Guitar," Patershuk proves himself a master of establishing dynamic tension through metaphor.
Things don't pick up much past a shuffle, and even its lightest moments ("Pep the Cat Murdering Dog") provide insight, but don't let that worry you. There's no shortage of steel guitar whine and impressive picking throughout. Recorded largely 'off the floor' with Americana stalwarts including Mike Bub, Gary Craig and Fats Kaplin, the disc benefits from its producer's 'less is more' approach. Ana Egge's harmony vocals provide the perfect complementary softness to Patershuk's edgy baritone.
Matt Patershuk is country music. "I Was So Fond of You" is what country music longs to be again.