From Omaha, Matt Cox is the first out of town musician that syntax has covered. But rightly so. Because on September 20th Cox will make his Denver debut as part of A Moveable Feast III. For this and more, we are blessed to have this gifted gold mine of a guitar slinger visit the Queen City of the Plains.
Cox is younger than me. But he sounds like he's twice my age. In timbre and content his voice portrays a worn soul, one that is speaking from the sepia days of the past through a tin can and a string.
The way Cox plays his guitar, sings and records is how it's supposed to be done in my book. While he may be young, Matt Cox understands space and volume and when to kick it into fifth gear – with his guitar and with his voice. In this he has a tremendous aptitude – one that is not learned, but rather, known – a priori.
The same can be said for his content and lyrical aptitude. Cox talks about everything Middle America. He talks about county jails, the sheriff, honest pay, and a life of drinking heavy. But he's not some country bumpkin – no, Cox's content - musically, compositionally and lyrically are laced with that rare kind of complex simplicity. Because while everything may feel like Middle America – in the end, his work is about the human spirit and it's ghostly, cosmic condition. An example of this is to be found in a lyric that, if you blink, you may miss:
Deep in the heart of Iowa/Deep in the heart
So obvious is his talent and humanity that, after hearing his work, the Late Jack Redell drove all the way to Omaha just to meet Cox. "Matt Cox's songs swagger with visions of an America that I haven't convincingly heard since the Band took their collective last breath…" Redell said, "I find him impossible."
Cox plays with an earnest pace, with songs that feel so far away from city lights that I am lead to question my own urban existence. It's people like Matt Cox that make me feel ridiculous for living a city life. It's people like Cox that lure me into disappearing for a more virtuous life in the cornfields. In the hills. In a small town. Forevermore I want to sit on a dusty front porch on a creaky swinging chair and watch the sun set to the west. That's the kind of life I want to lead: simple and with the dirt of the land on my trousers; driving home from work in a beat-up old pick-up truck, with a bottle of whiskey. It's as Cox says:
Just a fishing pole and an apple/No more material things
While life can beautiful, there is always a sense of torture – one that resonates in Cox's words and mostly, his voice. Redell said, "Cox sings from the hardest place I know… it's hell there."
His work is conversational. Even within his sparse and haunting arrangements it is conversational - where banjos and violins creep around him like ethereal ghosts in an empty farm house – there is always an element of connection. Whether that be in his rich storytelling aptitude or within the fact that he lacks pretension. For your whole ride through his musical landscape, Cox drops the wall between himself and the listener. He says things like:
There's more beneath the surface/More than what you think you hear
Living in Omaha, Cox is in the middle of a cultivated scene created by singers and songwriters and folks like Saddle Creek Records. But that's not to say that this monster of an undiscovered talent is not being recognized. Jess Stanek wrote that Cox's work is composed of "...timeless songs, hymns full of lonely highways, distillery lunch breaks, longing and realization." Still, at this point, Cox is flying under the radar – even more reason why it is a tremendous treat to have somebody of his caliber playing Denver in September.
Even when Cox leaves the Queen City, stay in touch with his sure fire rise: www.myspace.com/crookedroadblues and www.mattcoxmusic.net.
Jonathan Bitz - Denver Syntax (Aug 29, 2007)