Phosphorescent, Mike Bones, Mark Trecka | Empty Bottle | Rock, Pop, Etc | Chicago Reader
This is a past event.
When: Fri., March 6, 10 p.m. 2009
Price: $8
Working as Phosphorescent, Matthew Houck has developed a hazy, slightly rural sound that could pass for alt-country if his songs weren’t so sluggish and shapeless. He solves part of that problem on the new To Willie (Dead Oceans) by singing other people’s songs: every tune on this terrific album was written or recorded by Willie Nelson, and the title and artwork tweak Nelson’s 1977 LP To Lefty From Willie. Houck avoids well-known songs, instead choosing an assortment of bleak ditties dealing with fuckups like addiction and infidelity (and the painful introspection that follows). His aching voice can’t convey the occasional stabs of sharp humor that Nelson could nail with his terse delivery, but he pours himself into the material and makes most of it his own. His voice is often a slippery moan that seems to echo Ricky Ray Jackson’s pedal steel, which turns up here and there, and though the arrangements vary—some stark, some relatively full, one loaded with synths—his preferred tempo always seems to be a forlorn crawl. But Nelson’s songs are so economical and unforgettable that they can bring emotional focus to Houck’s glum, mushy style. Here’s hoping a little bit of Nelson stays with him when he writes his next batch of originals. Mike Bones and Mark Trecka open. —Peter Margasak

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