Matt Hannah – Dreamland
Songwriters like Matt Hannah are a different breed. Hannah ascends into rarefied air with his second full length release Dreamland. Let the Lonely Fade, his 2014 debut, served notice that a promising new songwriter had arrived on the scene, but recurring themes dominated his initial offering of songs, united by sound and purpose, but often exploring a variety of themes. Dreamland, in contrast, is a much more focused collection. The ten songs included on this release are tied together by variations on a common theme. Hannah’s intention is to explore the nature of our memories and these songs inhabit an indefinable land between the consciousness and unconsciousness where the narratives of our lives can often seem much different to us than they really are. The songs are largely acoustic, but there are certainly a few moments on Dreamland where the guitars rise quite assertively to the fore and a full band unleashes some rousing passages during instrumental breaks.
The title song opens Dreamland and lulls listeners into the album. Hannah consistently strikes an ideal balance between his often exquisite acoustic guitar work and dry, even distanced, voice, but there’s generous amount of emotion, vulnerability chief among them, slipping in between the cracks in each of Dreamland’s songs. He roughs things up some for “Broken Hearts & Broken Bones” without ever giving the album an entirely different tenor so early on; the arrangement blends the acoustic and electric elements of the track quite effectively. Hannah, moreover, is accompanied by some top flight players on the album. When they have a chance to indulge their talents some, none of them overstep the song’s borders and keep things tasteful. “Set Free” plays a little with the sort of clichés you often hear in songs like this, but you can have different takes on that as a listener. In some ways, it makes sense that a song about leaving things behind you is semi-crouched in familiar language or imagery that makes sense to us universally. The electric guitar in this song isn’t omnipresent in any way, but it does get to cut loose occasionally with fantastic results.
“The Night Is My Home” rates as the purest folk song on Dreamland. There’s a faint melancholy edging in on this song Hannah wisely never pushes too hard and it makes the imagery carry more of that message. The introduction of pedal steel during the song’s second half underscores melancholy. “Different Kind of Light” opens with a light keyboard swell before segueing into another fine slice of Hannah’s acoustic guitar work. The intensity, however, rises another notch when more instruments, particularly stinging electric guitar, enter the musical picture. There’s a small battery of guitars employed to get over the album’s penultimate track “Gone”, but it’s also one of the album’s breeziest performances and has a loose-limbed, inspired blues feel that’s nearly impossible to resist. The finale “Morning Song” returns us to Hannah’s comfort zone with a suitably low-key acoustic ending. Dreamland benefits immensely from its running order and, in particular, the first and final tracks help create the unity defining the album as a whole. This is a great achievement for Matt Hannah and opens further doors to his future.
9 out of 10 stars