There’s something devastating about the broken lonesomeness of Matthew Houck’s voice, the instrument that forms the fulcrum of the Phosphorescent sound.
With five LPs and one EP to his name – and showing a similar skill to Will Oldham – Houck clearly has no problem graduating from self-recorded, heart-breakingly personal work (as on 2007’s Pride) and more expansive ventures into the pastures of outlaw country -n’ western, as witnessed on this album with its lap steel guitar, honky tonk piano and tales of booze -n’ women with a chaser of inescapable loneliness.
The twist is that he manages to maintain the woozy, out-of-focus sounds Phosphorescent is better known for, while delivering songs and lyrics of which Wille Nelson himself would be proud.
Obvious comparisons to Neil Young or the aforementioned Oldham are fair but it’s the aesthetic of the hard living Highwaymen country supergroup (Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash) and a straight up, lived in/too boozy cowboy that permeates Here’s To Taking It Easy.
While some have recently derided this album as “too country”, it’s Houck’s touch that makes that country sound all the more satisfying, whether he’s raggedly lamenting the dissolution of a relationship on -The Mermaid Parade’ or harmonising through the melancholic sing-along of -Nothing Was Stolen (Love Me Foolishly)’ – even the parentheses on the latter, and also on a few of the songs titles here, have the bang of Kristofferson et al off them.
The more you listen to Here’s To Taking It Easy, the more it gets under your skin. An album to soak up while sipping whiskey in the twilight as the dog snores at your feet.