When listening to Omaha singer-songwriter Matt Cox’s latest disc, “My Last Dollar,” one could envision a delta blues musician, a road-worn folk singer, a Tom Waits eclectic, a Dylan or the Dead Disciple, or an old soul junkie bringing those influences to new life. Cox is a unique songwriter in town with a voice and soul to his music that is well beyond his 28 years. “My Last Dollar” is a record as good as anything that current national artists of a similar style Ray Lamontagne or Amos Lee have done. This is one of those albums that roots songwriter fans scour music blogs and MySpace sites looking for on a Sunday morning with a cup coffee. Cox has recently added an arsenal of musicians to his stage show including such well-known and respected players as Benn Zinn, Seth Ondracek, Matt Arbeiter and Nick Semrad. These additions make him and his band one of the potential breakouts on the live stages this year. Matt Cox and his band will be celebrating the release of “My Last Dollar” on Friday, March 27 at the Waiting Room Lounge with the Filter Kings and the Black Squirrels. I caught up with Cox this past week to talk about the album, his roots and his influences.
Matt Cox has been playing music all of his life, but it wasn’t until his 20s that he took it to the stage and started performing for others. He says, “I took piano as a young kid at 6. Was a drummer all through high school. Did my first gig at the age of 22 in Arizona and then came back to Omaha in 2002 to focus on being a songwriter. I loved it when I got back and it took me a year of playing with buddies before they nudged me to do it on my own. Michael Campbell then let me do my thing at Mick’s and Amy Ryan at the P.S. Collective has been really supportive as well.”
Other young singer-songwriters with a voice like Cox’s many times sound forced or like they are trying too much to sound like their heroes. Cox sounds natural on record and on stage and his voice and songs draw in the listener quickly. I asked him if he has always sounded the way he does. “Not in front of people,” he stated, “It took a long time for me to really get up in front of people and really sing and project. I was always drawn to those soulful voices like Otis Redding and Chris Robinson. I can even hear that stuff in old Hank Williams songs. It helped a lot when I stopped trying to sing like other people and I started to record my own songs and I found my own voice.”
There is an authentic roots quality to “My Last Dollar,” which may be a result of not recording in one of the big Omaha studios, but instead making frequent treks to the area he grew up in and recording in a 100-year-old barn-turned-studio outside of Griswold, Iowa. Prairie Winds Studio is run by his friend Kirk Webb, who also serves as co-producer on the album. I asked Cox why he put in that much time to travel back and forth to Griswold to record: “Kirk did my last album and I have been recording with him for a few years. I do it for the atmosphere and the environment. It’s the whole drive there and yeah, when I get to the mixing part of the album, the drive gets a little old. It feels like home, because it is near where I grew up and also Kirk does a great job.”
Upon first listening to Cox his music has a storytelling quality to it, but when getting deeper into the songs one will find a lot more introspection and personal touches. I asked Cox if he considers himself a storyteller or someone that writes about his own experiences. “I would say both,” he said. “I would say that I lean more towards the storytelling but I don’t know how good the story is. There is stuff on this album that I thought up while I was driving to the studio and putting a lot of miles on the car. I had a notebook handy and when you are dead armed on a long stretch of highway I could write lines here and there. I write about the monotony of it all and doing the same thing day to day and wanting to do more.” I also asked him if there was a theme running through “My Last Dollar.” “There is a lot of realization,“ he said. “As a whole there is a lot of coping there and realizing that the way things are, are not always going to be the way you want them to be. I think it is a pretty universal album and I think a lot of people could relate the simplicity of the album. That is how I think about a lot of the traditional music that I listen to.” - Marq Manner, The City Weekly