Exploring Again: Mat Kearney, July 14 at the Redstone Room Print
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Friday, 02 July 2010 05:56

Mat Kearney. Photo by James Minchin.

Mat Kearney's July 14 show at the Redstone Room will feature the singer/songwriter and his guitar. That's a departure for somebody with his adult-contemporary credentials: two major-label albums, music appearing in roughly 20 television shows, four Billboard top-20 Hot Adult hits, and tours with John Mayer, Sheryl Crow, Jason Mraz, and Train, among others.

"I love playing with a band and production, and I would love to be in arenas ... flying through the crowd with Garth Brooks wings on or something," he said in a recent phone interview. But "after all the lights and band and buses, it was time for me to get back in the van with some friends and see where the wind blew us, remove a lot of the pressure and a lot of the schedule and just be able to roll into town and play the songs we wanted and head on to the next town. ... I can stop for as long as I want, I can talk for as long as I want, I can play whatever I want. There's just a lot more freedom for me to connect with people."

Kearney said the genesis of this "jumping off the grid" van tour (which starts July 10) was playing an event for Apple in a beach town -- just him and a buddy and a guitar. "I was like, 'Oh, yeah. I used to do this all the time,'" he said. "I used to show up with a guitar and kind of an idea of what I was doing and just have a blast. ...

"Part of it is also [that] I miss seeing the country, and I miss seeing different cities. So we specifically picked cities we hadn't been to in a long time. Just figured we'd go back out exploring again."

Kearney's 2006 album Nothing Left to Lose put him on the map, and was unusual for its genre with some hip-hop elements within pop-rock songs that went down easy. Last year's City of Black & White was distinguished by its polish and the fullness of production. AbsolutePunk.net called it "sharpened and mature" and "a warm, comforting album laced with melodic, mid-tempo songs that are chock full of cozy guitars, chiming piano, and lots of layers." It also noted that Kearney's voice is "timeless, captivating, and comforting. He could sing about pipe bombs and exploding cars and there'd still be a placidity and warmness to his tone that would soothe and soften." The album includes "Fire & Rain" -- not the James Taylor song, but undoubtedly a nod to that classic.

Kearney admits that his music isn't particularly complicated, but he said he's always had "this thing" that resonates with audiences. At Chico State University, he said, he borrowed his roommate's guitar and muddled through on the instrument. "I was so bad at covering people's music," he recalled. "I would sit on the front porch and I would just make up songs. A three-chords-and-the-truth thing. ... That's what I built my whole thing on. They're not the most complex melodies, they're not the most complex chords ... but all my songs have this thing to them -- at least the good ones do."

One notable absence on his most-recent album is the spoken word, but Kearney said he hasn't abandoned that aspect of his music. "When I wrote City of Black & White, none of those songs made the cut," he said. "I was having trouble writing that way. But it's funny: As soon as I departed from it, I started writing all these songs [with] a different take on that -- somewhere in between the spoken word and singing. ... It wasn't like I left it behind. I'm just interpreting it differently now. ...

"I've been writing with a drum machine and a guitar," he said. "There's this rhythmic, Paul Simon-y thing that I'm coming across, that's kind of got this very strong urban or hip-hop groove with these acoustic stories over them. Maybe it's my nod back to Nothing Left to Lose."

Mat Kearney will perform on Wednesday, July 14, at the Redstone Room (129 Main Street in Davenport). The all-ages show begins at 7 p.m., and the bill also includes Jane Carrey. Tickets ($20) are available at the River Music Experience or through Ticketmaster.

For more information on Mat Kearney, visit MatKearney.com or MySpace.com/matkearney.