The term “Americana” comes under frequent fire as a useful descriptor of a musical genre. Whatever its shortcomings one thing is for sure, some of its finest exponents come from beyond the frontiers of the United States of America. For several years Matt Patershuk has been among an expanding generation of Canadians making some of the best in contemporary roots music. In my opinion Patershuk’s recently released third album, Same As I Ever Have Been. is his best yet. He has created another collection of beautifully crafted songs that explore emotions, often in hard times, that he sings in his gritty voice along with some great musicians.
Same As I Ever Have Been is an apt title in terms of quality but what does seem different this time is Patershuk’s lightness of touch and variety of style compared with his previous album, I Was So Fond of You. Here he draws in turn from blues, country, folk, honky tonk and whether conscious decision or not, this diversity certainly gives the album greater depth and interest.
There isn’t a dud track so selecting the best is a tough choice but I’ll go for ‘Blank Pages and Lost Wages’ because it pulls the whole album together in one song.Opening with a lazy slide then settling into a gentle pace as Patershuk sings of “blank pages and lost wages, nothing in either hand”, then having to explain that back at home. “Go to work boys”, he hollers to the honky tonk pianist as if to say don’t bother with this music biz, the only way to make a living is by doing an honest day’s work. Yet if a song could have a twinkle in its eye this one does; despite the result Patershuk doesn’t regret having tried. It’s all here; lyrics, voice and perfectly chosen accompaniments.
There are others with a bluesy feel; ‘Cheap Guitar” sounds as if it comes from the Delta rather than the plains of Alberta. A mean riff runs throughout as Patershuk almost growls about his less than pristine instrument. At the end of each verse the slide returns with horns in a menacing flourish. In similar vein is ‘Good Luck’ where a searing slide matches his anguish and desperation for some good luck, that he reaches for a tacky charm, “cash on delivery even had the 20 bucks, good luck”.
The jaunty tune of ‘Hot Knuckle Blues’ is not reflected in its lyrics about being laid off, the impact of unemployment and frustration of rejection, “when a man don’t have a purpose in seeps a sense of shame”. What stands out is his lack of self-pity.
Slowing things right down, ‘Memory and the First Law of Thermodynamics’ mourns loss, in this case, Patershuk’s sister who was killed by a drunk driver. He conveys such feeling without a surplus word or note. ‘Boreal’ unifies singer with his surroundings, a man far more at home with nature than city. The title track says what you see is what you get and it doesn’t change, set to distinctly old style country tempo with some lovely pedal steel.
The final two tracks are both about birds, literally and metaphorically. ‘Sparrows’ shows again Patershuk’s preference for the simple life. ‘Swans’ is a folk ballad with strong Celtic ties. It is so delicate, like the finest glass, particularly with the backing vocals from Ana Egge. A word too for others on the record; long-time collaborator Steve Dawson who produced and played strings, drummer Jay Bellerose, John Reischman (mandolin), Chris Gestrin (keyboards), and Jeremy Holmes (bass).
Bruce Springsteen recently admitted that he hadn’t done a day’s proper work himself. Matt Patershuk combines a regular job building bridges with writing and performing. He may not reach the Boss’s level of fame but for Same As I Ever Have Been Patershuk deserves a lot more than he has currently.