Having established a reputation as a leader of Boston's Americana/country scene after years on the club circuit in his native New England, as well being the first-call support act for major acts of the genre touring through the area, Matt York is set to release his latest LP Gently Used in June 2022.
If you didn't know any better, it wouldn't be off-base to assume this album came straight out of East Nashville's burgeoning Americana scene. Featuring fiddle work from Joshua Hedley, Spencer Cullum, Jr. on pedal steel, guitars by Taylor Hollingsworth, piano by Dillon Warnek, and drums by Tim Dineen, Gently Used bears all the hallmarks of masters at work — a timeless Americana listening experience crafted at the crossroads of York's songcraft and his ace studio band lending their own flourishes.
Recorded almost entirely remotely — a well-documented practice during the dregs of the pandemic — York found himself spoiled for choice on what parts to include on each song. Basic tracks were sent off to the band individually, meaning that each player didn't necessarily get to hear what the other was recording.
York points to "If You Want Love", the blazing honky tonk number that kicks off the album, as a prime example of this.
"It's a real barn-burner of a song — Spencer's pedal steel stuff is insane," he recalls. "Josh's fiddle stuff is insane, as is Taylor's guitar stuff. They're all like...soloing. We had to spend a lot of time at the console thinking 'How do we pull this out? It's so friggin' good, we can't not include this.'" This is a theme across the record, and offers quite the listening experience, evoking a country-tinged 'wall of sound' at times.
Conversely, title track "Gently Used" shows York's softer side. It's a piano-driven ballad complemented by ethereal acoustic guitar work; the track's sparse production is a lesson in tasteful restraint, given the tools and players at his disposal. "Baby Doll" bridges the gap between these extremes — a driving yet subdued ballad awash in reverb as electric guitars and pedal steel trade off carrying the melody.
An introspective songwriter, York prides himself on his ability to get inside of characters and weave universally-accessible tales of heartbreak, loss, desperation, and depression. He isn't afraid of a sad song, noting that he is drawn to darker subjects, as those songs are often the most firmly rooted in reality. That's not to say he's making anything up for the sake of a story — more often than not, if it's in a song, he's lived it.
In 2020, he lost his job, his wife lost her job, and his father passed away, all within a few weeks, just before their two teenage daughters were preparing to celebrate Christmas.
"That was a 'holy shit' moment," he recalls. "It allowed me to write not only from a place of where I was at, but if, say, a friend of mine was going through a divorce, I could put myself into their situation and write about it as if it was my own."
"The loss, the suffering ... I was feeling it personally," he continues. "When you hear a Johnny Cash song talking about being busted or just getting by, if that song was written in 1955, it's every bit as applicable today as it was then, and it doesn't matter if you are working on a cotton farm in Arkansas, or if you're living here in Massachusetts, if you can't get shoes for your kids and figure out how to pay for food, that stuff is real."
A lifelong New Englander (outside of a brief childhood stint in Austin, Tx. that arguably planted the seeds of his love for country music), York is well aware of his standing as something of an outsider when it comes to the unofficial headquarters of the genre, Nashville, Tennessee.
"I'm not gonna lie to you," he says. "I'm well aware that when I go down there, I can feel the locals judging me like, yeah, they think I'm a Yankee. You don't really see that in other genres, that regional bias."
That's not to say he's a defeatist; rather, he uses it as a motivational tool to further his goals
"I live by what Waylon Jennings said," he proclaims. "Country music is just a feeling, it's not a banjo or pedal steel."
If Gently Used was a feeling, it would be a damn fine one; a worthy entry into the modern Americana musical canon. This product of all-star collaboration boasts the swagger of Nashville dusted with Texas Red Dirt, and while the album's credits speak for themselves, York's songs are more than able to stand on their own. It may well be his finest work to-date, and the record that could see him outgrowing regional successes in favor of national headlining tours.