Matthew Wilburn Skinner – Play For The King
10 songs – 42 minutes
Matthew Wilburn Skinner may be a new name to blues fans as he makes his debut as a soloist here, but the guitar, banjo and harmonica playing vocalist is a familiar voice in the roots world.
Based out of Colorado with a background that includes 15 years of work as a studio engineer as well as a musician, he and brothers Adam and Austin Morford are the driving forces behind the band Tallgrass, a trio that delivers three-part harmonies that blend bluegrass, gospel and folk.
Since forming in 2012, they’re currently working on their third album, are winners of National Public Radio’s Tiny Desk Contest and have shared the stage with Melissa Etheridge, The White Buffalo and President Obama, among others. Their music fits comfortably both on someone’s front porch or the big stage on a warm summer’s night.
Play For The King isn’t your traditional blues album, although the music springs from the same root. The acoustic folk tradition is still strong here, but it’s fused with elements of the Delta. A solo effort composed of nine originals and one cover, Skinner’s skill in the control room produced a multi-layered work that comes across with the feel of a full band. His raspy vocal delivery is somewhat buried in the mix throughout.
A propulsive rhythm on banjo accompanied by a simple drumbeat open “Play For The King” is a paean to a man who’s “the salt of the land and the coal on the fire.” It’s a hypnotic spiritual message not to live for the moment, but sing to the heavens instead. The words are accompanied by a rhythmic chorus with Skinner alternating between deep bass and alto voices. The feel brightens as Matthew switches to guitar and delivers “Just Wait A Minute” atop a similar song structure. It’s a sweet promise that, no matter what the weather, no matter what the roadblock in life, love WILL call.
The breezy “Sari” comes across with an island feel before the bluesy ballad “Borderline” describes being ready to make a move, but being unsure of the direction to take. Skinner’s back on banjo for “No Guns In London,” which delivers details of sitting in an aged city square. It flows effortlessly into “Back Again” – about living alone again – before “Out Of The Way,” which makes plans for a fall trip to an out-of-the-way place with a lover.
“Let It Go” sings about a romantic showdown. It precedes the only cover, a version of the familiar 19th century tune “Wayfaring Stranger,” whose author has been lost in time. The disc ends “If You Look Ahead,” which imparts advice to remain optimistic and look on the bright side because, no matter what happens, we’re all going to meet the same end.
Available from Amazon and CDUniverse, Play For The King is a pleasant package of interesting acoustic originals. That said, if you’re a blues purist, beware: there isn’t enough here for you. This one will appeal to folks who prefer roots.