With scholar’s touch, Mike Mattison lights ‘Afterglow’

Mike Mattison’s second album “Afterglow” will be released March 20.

Eighteen years ago, Mike Mattison accepted an invitation from then-rising guitar star Derek Trucks to sing in his band. For the last decade, their partnership has flourished in the huge Tedeschi Trucks Band. Born in Minnesota, Mattison graduated Harvard with a degree in American Literature, and he serves on the Council of the Association of Literary Critics, Scholars, and Writers.

Mike Mattison is as far from a run-of-the-mill vocalist as the Twin Cities are from the Mississippi Delta. He sings in a range from a field holler to a buttery Americana tone to a striking falsetto, with ease. Playing sax, French horn, trombone, bass, guitar, and piano also came naturally to him. His literary mind, and ingenious ways of shaping all sorts and eras of rhythm and blues, country, jazz, and rock music, have resulted in original songs of uncommon depths and sonic hues.

“Afterglow” is his second solo album, following four leading Scrapomatic, and 11 with the Trucks bands. Opening it in a dusty Country/Western manner on “Charlie Idaho” may seem odd at first. But hold tight; that beautifully soulful, lyrical re-telling of the tragic true tale of the government’s sending of a “mercy man” to the levee camps to assure that the mules were being treated properly — to hell with the men  —grabs hard. Charlie Idaho murdered that mercy man. Mattison and his longtime partners Dave Yoke on guitar, drummer Tyler “Falcon” Greenwell, and bassist Franher Joseph of Delta Moon, kill it on this song of incomparable feeling and aura.

“Afterglow” continues the country-soul vibe, but ramps it up into an infectious groove co-concocted with guitarists Paul Olsen and Derek Trucks (Scrapomatic partner Olsen is present here; Trucks is not). One of the many striking aspects of Mattison’s song craft centers on interpretation. In a recent live performance, he described the jaunty, rocking “Deadbeat” as being about someone who crashes on the couch and never leaves. The lyrics however, take a keen listener’s imagination in other directions.

“All You Can Do,” which previously appeared on Tedeschi Trucks Band’s High & Mighty EP, glistens with tender soul. It features one of the final, gorgeous piano performances by Mattison’s longtime friend, the late Kofi Burbridge. “Kiss You Where You Live” could be a 1960s Laurel Canyon pop gem, and on the sleek “I Really Miss You,” Mattison, in his falsetto, conjures the R&B of Smoky Robinson and Prince at once. Bask in Afterglow’s beaming diversity. Mike Mattison deserves another trophy for the album, to place next to the two Grammy and six Blues Music Awards he already shares in.

– Tom Clarke

Mike Mattison
‘Afterglow’
Label:
Landslide Records
Release: March 20, 2020

ABOUT Tom Clarke

Tom Clarke
From pre-war blues to the bluegrass of the Virginia hills, Tom Clarke has a passion for most any kind of deep-rooted American music, and has been writing about it for 23 years. He’s particularly fond of anything from Louisiana, and the 45-year timelines and ever-growing family trees of The Allman Brothers Band and Los Lobos. Tom’s reviews and articles have appeared in BluesPrint, the King Biscuit Times, Hittin’ The Note, Blues Revue, Elmore, Blues Music Magazine, and now, Tahoe Onstage. Tom and his wife Karen raised four daughters in upstate New York. They split their time between the Adirondack Mountains and coastal South Carolina.

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