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Mat Kearney - City of Black and White Album Cover

Mat Kearney - City of Black and White

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Mat Kearney - City of Black and White
Record Label: Aware/Columbia
Release Date: May 19, 2009
This review was written by an AP.net staff member.
The well-worn adage "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," seems to be the mantra for Nashville's Mat Kearney on his new album City of Black and White, the follow up to 2004's Billboard smash Nothing Left to Lose. Ditching the spoken-word, faux hip-hop verses of Nothing, Kearney pushes ahead with a warm, comforting album laced with melodic, mid-tempo songs that are chock full of cozy guitars, chiming piano and lots of layers. Working once again with producer Robert Marvin (their third consecutive creative output), Kearney expands his sonic pallette only slightly.

Aside from the vocal maturity, much of the music sounds exactly like its predecessor. This isn't exactly a bad thing, as most of the songs are more polished, and emotional than anything on Nothing. Lead single "Closer to Love," is a pleasing, amiable track in which its protagonist seeks divine solace amid a personal catastrophe, aided by the line, "If every building falls, and all the stars fade, we'll still be singing this song, the one they can't take away." That seems to be the overall theme for City of Black and White. Whether a romance is ending ("From New York to California,") or restarting {"Fire and Rain"), Kearney seems to want to ameliorate all of life's quandaries in simple brush strokes. Not such an easy task, but much less difficult with songs this pleasant. All twelve songs are backed by solid session musicians and immaculate structuring. From front to back, there's neither filler nor throwaway, instead it's one hook-driven beauty after the other.

The album begins with the harmless, overtly melodic "All I Have," and follows it up with four more radio-ready singles, the most memorable being the falsetto-driven "Fire and Rain," which has a Brit-rock veer that's breezy and crisp. The sequencing of an album is a major factor in allowing it to hold form nd it's hard to argue with a disc that has five solid radio songs before the album's first ballad. Said track is the piano-fueled "New York to California," in which Kearney admits to a former flame he'd walk across the continent to rekindle the romance. While it's a sweet sentiment, it's all a bit too much. Lyrically and emotionally the song is a bit overwrought but is thankfully saved by an undeniably gorgeous pace and structure.

Kearney is lucky in that he was given a first-rate voice that's timeless, captivating and comforting. He could sing about pipe bombs and exploding cars and there'd still be a placidity and warmness to his tone that would soothe and soften. While Nothing was more innovative and edgy, City of Black and White is sharpened and mature. The disc quite honestly would serve well as a textbook in how to craft the quintessential mid-tempo radio-ready album. While much of it is quite conventional, predictable and formulaic, there's nothing harmless, alienating or disappointing about it. On the contrary, these are songs that drip with empathy, compassion and humanity.

But for all it's highs, the album still has one major shortcoming. The lyrical groundwork laid is dull and tepid and while not every song written has to be a Faulkner novel, one would hope Kearney would do better than, "I'm fighting to live and feel alive, but I can't feel a thing without you by my side, send me out a lifeline." Though he's gone on record as admitting the song was written to someone who had lost everything they cherished, there's still something to be said for striving to do something original. While it's apparent he's a born romantic, gooey lyrics and overtly saccharine sentiment can only go so far.

Lyrics aside, one can't help but point out the obvious positives. The story song "Annie" is a triumphant and inspiring tale of a girl trying to make it on her own and leave behind a troubled situation. That connecting theme is really the album's whole focus. Kearney has gone on record as admitting that the album "is about the pains and joys of landing in a community, or desiring to land in one. It's about brotherhood, love, heartbreak, disillusionment and finding oneself through friends and community." That sense of conviviality and support is something many artists seek to attain but never fully realize. That simple fact is probably City of Black and White's greatest triumph. It takes a lot for an artist to strive for something, but when said goal is achieved, and in a manner as pleasant as this, that's when true greatness shines.

Track Listing1. All I Have
2. Fire and Rain
3. Closer to Love
4. Here We Go
5. Lifeline
6. New York to California
7. Runaway Car
8. Never Be Ready
9. Annie
10. Straight Away
11. On and On
12. City of Black and White


Recommended If You Like Matt Nathanson, Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers, Josh Kelley, Grey's Anatomy


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Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 25
07:55 AM on 05/18/09
#2
DI Pistola
tune in Tokyo
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The faux hip-hop lines really got to me on his last album. Glad to hear he's playing more to his strengths now.

Might have to pick this up.
08:15 AM on 05/18/09
#3
live.
Feenay! Fee hee hee hee heenay!
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The faux hip-hop lines really got to me on his last album. Glad to hear he's playing more to his strengths now.

Might have to pick this up.
He's pretty good at freestyle haha. I saw him open up for John Mayer and he was rapping about the crowd.
08:20 AM on 05/18/09
#4
deezee
geekrevolt.com
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I'm going to check this out, nice review.
08:33 AM on 05/18/09
#5
Dirge07
...coitus?
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Good review. Definitely gonna check it out soon enough...
08:35 AM on 05/18/09
#6
Gregory Robson
Under Rug Swept
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The faux hip-hop lines really got to me on his last album. Glad to hear he's playing more to his strengths now.

Might have to pick this up.
They got to me too. I liked it in a few songs, but EVERY song??
He's much more solid here.
08:48 AM on 05/18/09
#7
imtimwhoareyou
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The spoken lines are what I liked the most...
08:54 AM on 05/18/09
#8
Ryzenfall
makin' good time
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I enjoyed this review and want to hear this even more. I kind of liked when he did spoken verse as well, but not all the time, because the man can definitely write a standard hook laced song.
08:56 AM on 05/18/09
#9
Gregory Robson
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The spoken lines are what I liked the most...
You wont enjoy this album then. There isn't a single one.
10:52 AM on 05/18/09
growingfungus
eat. sleep. repeat.
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mat kearney and mewithoutyou on the same day...best release day this year
10:56 AM on 05/18/09
S9Dallasoz
Knows the words to 'Bye Bye Bye'
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They got to me too. I liked it in a few songs, but EVERY song??
He's much more solid here.
"Bullet" & "Undeniable" were fantastic though.
10:58 AM on 05/18/09
Gregory Robson
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"Bullet" & "Undeniable" were fantastic though.
They were one of many. That album was solid. I loved it. I just like this one a lot more.
11:42 AM on 05/18/09
imtimwhoareyou
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You wont enjoy this album then. There isn't a single one.

You don't think so? I loved his singing too, I just love creative synthesis like that... mewithoutYou, for example, has and/or had such a unique vision of music...

They were one of many. That album was solid. I loved it. I just like this one a lot more.

...And because we share the same feelings about Nothing Left to Lose, I'm hoping I like this one too, haha.
11:42 AM on 05/18/09
imtimwhoareyou
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mat kearney and mewithoutyou on the same day...best release day this year

"Bullet" & "Undeniable" were fantastic though.

These.
11:47 AM on 05/18/09
Gregory Robson
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You don't think so? I loved his singing too, I just love creative synthesis like that... mewithoutYou, for example, has and/or had such a unique vision of music...



...And because we share the same feelings about Nothing Left to Lose, I'm hoping I like this one too, haha.
It depends what you want from it. If you want hip-hop verses, you won't get that.
If you want solid hooks, you'll get that.
And I think it's a stretch to compare him to mwY.
I see where you're going with that, but it's a loose analogy.
Anyways. Let me know your thoughts on the disc. I truly love it.

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