Friday, May 28, 2010

"Ghost" - the Music of Matt Stevens

Think back to the days of rock instrumentals: the late 50s to the mid 60s—the sounds of Link Wray, Dick Dale, the Ventures, Booker T & the MGs, the Surfaris. Now imagine that music brought forward some 50 years thru the filter of metal & punk & electronica (not to mention bebop & baroque). If a sound begins in your ear, you may begin to have an inkling of the music of Matt Stevens.

A music of sonic landscapes—like landscapes, comprised of layers & textures—like landscapes, a place where you can lose yourself or a place where you can discover the unexpected—landscapes that seem both unique & strangely familiar—like the music you hear in a dream, & wake trying to recall— music as the soundtrack for a movie that hasn’t been filmed, & yet you know the story.

The story of how I’ve come to write about Matt Stevens’ music is in itself unexpected; Mr Stevens, who lives in the UK, contacted me not so very long ago with a link to the music on his soon-to-be-released cd Ghost (release date is June 1st) & asked if I’d consider reviewing it here on Robert Frost’s Banjo. After giving the music a listen, I was delighted to oblige.

The music itself—beyond my somewhat lyrical descriptions in the first couple of paragraphs—is genre defying: one h
ears rock (in several of its incarnations) & jazz & funk & classical & Latin. Yet Stevens, whose guitar artistry is matched by his compositional skills, welds these disparate elements into a coherent whole. He lists diverse influences: John McLaughlin of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Robert Fripp (one commentator described his music as sounding like a jam session involving Fripp & Tom Verlaine—a very apt characterization!), & in Stevens’ own words “"Loads of stuff from metal to soundtracks to jazz and 60's pysche stuff. Carcass to Todd Rundgren to John Coltrane.”

How does Stevens make this music? He plays mostly acoustic guitar, but makes liberal (&
astute) use of looping technology & effects. In this way, he creates what has been called a “wall of sound”—& in the typical musical use of that term it’s appropriate. However, a “wall” is a flat surface that defines space in squares & rectangles; to my ear, Stevens’ music opens out, & thus I’d find “layered” a more apt description. Using this technology & his acoustic guitar, Stevens is credited with being able to reproduce the multi-layered sound of his studio work onstage. You can check out his website for future gigs here. According to the site, he’s scheduled to play at the Strongroom in London at 8:00 p.m. on July 14th 2010.

Ghost will be released on cd in an edition of 100; you can pre-order the cd here on Stevens site.
The tracks are also available as electronic downloads on a “pay what you want” basis. Mr Stevens has a formidable web presence: in addition to his website, he has a YouTube channel, blog & Facebook page; you may also purchase his music at the latter site.

To give you some idea of Stevens’ music, I’ve embedded his video for his song “Big Sky” from Ghost. I would note, however, that while the album is most certainly “of a piece,” no one track is going to tell the whole story—there’s also the Latin jazz of “Into the Sea,” the “deformed” classical riffs of “Glide,” & the very soundtrack-like “Lake Man” & “Ghost.” This is an album that rewards listening to as a whole.

If you’re interested in an original, intriguing album of guitar work by a musician whose playing & composition (which he figures to be 50% arranged & 50% improvisation) display a high degree of musicality, then Ghost will be for you. Please check it out!

Promo photos by
K Feazey


  1. Cool! I'll pop over and check out his site. Great review, John.

  2. Thanks loads for the review - very much appreciated

  3. Absolutely fascinating, John. Like radio waves, this leaves its source and then filters back to near home via a distant place! I'm thinking not just the influences cited here but of iconoclasts like John Fahey and Robbie Basho. I must check out more.

  4. I Love John Fahey - listening to Robbie Basho now, i'd not heard him before and his music really is wonderful - thanks loads Dick

  5. Hi Willow & Matt & Dick

    Willow: Thanks so much, & glad you're checking out Matt's music.

    Matt: Thank you--really enjoyed the music & the chance to review it here. & thanks for following! BTW--I'm glad I'm not the only one who hadn't heard of Rob Basho.

    Dick: Great call on Fahey--confirmed by Matt himself, I see. I shall have to look into Rob Basho's work. Really glad this piqued your interest! The radio waves line is very apt.

  6. I'm soooo much looking forward to my CD.....I've already ordered it;-))
    Great review btw.

  7. Hi Anita: That's great! & thanks for stopping by; glad you liked the review.

  8. Wonderful review! I couldn't wait to listen to the music as I read your words. It has a haunting deja vu quality to it; takes me to a place that is familiar and yet unknown.

  9. This was great! Matt Stevens is definitely somebody I'll have to keep track of.

  10. Hi Nana Jo: I agree completely about the deja vu quality--glad you enjoyed the review & the music.

    Roy: Glad you stopped by for this! Yes--an interesting player & composer indeed.

  11. I posted a comment that disappeared here the other day to say I really like this review and was glad to be introduced to Matt's music. I love your music reviews, John!

  12. Hi Audrey: Thanks! It was fun to write about Matt Stevens' music--& his cd is out now! I've noticed a fair amount of Tweets about it today.


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