“I’m finding out everything’s harder and no one’s been smart enough to write a book on how to survive”. That line from “Love In The Nuclear Age” provides the album title for How to Survive, the newest release from Knoxville, TN based songwriter, Matt Woods. Much to the chagrin of all of us attempting to survive, that book may never be written. However, thanks to Woods, we now have a phenomenally relatable record chronicling the struggles we all face making our way through life. Love lost, love found, hard work, attempts at realizing a dream, and staring failure in the face all find their way into the 12 tracks on How to Survive.
Anyone who is familiar with Woods’s breakout album, With Love From Brushy Mountain (2014), is fully aware of his ability to turn everyday emotions and events into songs that will resonate with listeners for years. How to Survive builds perfectly on the success of its predecessor, and it shows the growth of Woods as a standout songsmith, as well as integrating an all star backing band to present an even more cohesive soundscape for his East Tennessee drawl to deliver the lyrics over. Guests on this album come from all over the Americana landscape, Aaron Lee Tasjan on electric guitar, Jeremy Mackinder (Whitey Morgan and the 78’s, Deadstring Bros.) on bass, Todd Beene (Lucero, Glossary) lays down pedal steel parts, songwriter friends, Adam Lee and Jeff Shepherd provide backing vocals and many other well established musicians lend their talents to the record.
This combination of vocal delivery, lyrical content and musicianship adds up to a record that does not have a skipable song on it. From the first note of the lead single and first track on the album, “The American Way” to the fade out of “No News”, How to Survive, engages the listener completely. The aforementioned single tells the story of a factory worker making his way and finding some kind of common ground with his soldier son through hardships that seem worlds apart. “Fire Flies” takes a different angle on a love song, through the example of an older couple and a desire to pass that example onto other young lovers. On the opposite end of the spectrum, “To Tell the Truth” finds the narrator taking a long look in the mirror and coming to terms with the deterioration of a love that once seemed so perfect. A final gem, on an album full of them, is “Name to Drop”, which follows a songwriter’s journey to all of the industry cities, where he attempts to make it on his talent alone.
Make no mistake, a songwriter as good as Matt Woods should need no name to drop to make people listen. There has been a lot of talk of what country music has become or should be. On other reviews of How to Survive the case has been made (quite well and convincingly) that if folks would listen to Woods’s record, those concerns could be easily squashed. I could honestly give no less of a shit about the “state of country music”. I am much more concerned that lost in that argument, the masses are being robbed of the chance to hear a writer deliver in his prime. In baseball there is always talk of the magic age “27” year when a ballplayer is expected to begin to come into his own and have his prime. While there is no magic number for the prime of a songwriter, Corb Lund told me once in an interview that he wasn’t interested in what a country singer wrote until he was around 35 and had lived a little. Woods is well entrenched in his late 30’s and it is obvious when you listen to this album that his prime has arrived with a resounding bang. As music fans all we can do is shout from the rooftops and hope like hell more people start listening.
You can purchase a copy of How to Survive over at Matt’s website www.therealmattwoods.com . Woods and a full band are out now through the end of November touring the country in support of the release, check the dates and go see a show. I promise you will not be disappointed.