Nothing But The Silence Review
By Lesley Hastings
Sitting in the O2 Indigo on a Friday night in March of 2014 for the CMA Songwriter’s Series ( ahead of the Country to Country Festival that weekend) I was hugely excited ( as was the majority of the audience I am sure) to be seeing superstars Martina McBride and Brett James playing stripped back versions of their hits in this relatively intimate setting. I doubt any of us were prepared for what was about to unfold. A young duo, who had never played outside the USA before, sat seemingly unphased at the end of the lineup of sessoned musicians, patiently waiting for their turn to perform. And wow, in my mind they were the total stars of the evening, in every respect! I can only liken their performance to an explosion of musical magic. Their playing, vocal harmonies, song writing and obvious chemistry was a joy to behold, and everyone knew they were witnessing something very special unfolding before their eyes. That duo was Striking Matches.
Since that night I have been fortunate enough to have seen them live on several other occasions, realising that what I saw that March night was a relatively tame and restrained performance ( anyone who has witnessed their shows will know what I mean!) and have been eagerly awaiting their debut album. They have already gained a reputation as fine songwriters, with at least half a dozen of their compositions being used in the hit tv series “Nashville” so the quality of the material was never in doubt for me, but I must admit to being slightly concerned that the CD wouldn’t be able capture the electricity they create together on stage, something which can be hard to replicate on a recording. But I needn’t have worried. I pre-ordered it seemingly ages ago, and several tracks were made available to download ahead of the full album release, which not only added to the anticipation but allayed my fears. The tracks were recorded live, using the top rate musicians that Sarah and Justin tour with in the States, and with T Bone Burnett at the helm the production as you may expect is first rate, adding just enough to enhance without eclipsing the pairs’ talents, either vocally or instrumentally. I am so happy to see it already doing so well commercially ( as I write this it is number 1 in the UK i-tunes chart) which isn’t bad for a chance pairing ……. their university music tutor randomly chose Sarah Zimmermann and Justin Davis to play together, they clicked immediately and the rest is history!
The duo are involved in the writing all of the album’s eleven tracks, working with some top-notch Nashville writers such as Bonnie Baker on the title track ( Bonnie has written hits for the likes of Reba McEntire and Hunter Hayes) and Ben Glover on “What a Broken Heart Feels Like” ( as well as co-writing with Gretchen Peters, Ben has been touring his own album “Atlantic” recently). If you are expecting an “out and out ” country album you will be disappointed, but your disappointment should end there! The tracks showcase elements from the huge variety of musical genres from which the duo get inspiration, a bit of country, blues and rock ‘n’ roll to name but three,and every one is, in my opinion, superb on many different levels. Firstly, there’s the vocals…..the duo share the lead lead, both have strong voices and connect emotionally with their lyrics. Plus there are sublime harmonies throughout, too. Secondly, both Sarah and Justin are totally incredible guitarists ( Sarah’s slide playing needs to be seen to be believed ) with Sarah also playing electric mandolin on some tracks and Justin often beating down energetically on his guitar’s body to add his own drum beat. Listen to the riffs on some of the songs, fantastic stuff! Thirdly, their lyrics are both intelligent and original, free of cliches and there are some interesting takes on the age-old themes of love and heartbreak. Their natural affinity and understanding of each other musically has, not surprisingly, led to parallels being made between this pairing and the (now defunct) Civil Wars, but to my mind Striking Matches music is more exciting, edgy and varied.
So we are treated to some fabulous up-tempo songs such as “Trouble is As Trouble Does “( with it’s infectious chorus ) and “Miss Me More ” and some heart-wrenching ballads in ” Like Lovers” ( one of my personal favourites, what a break-up song!!) “God and You” and “When The Right One Comes Along” ( one of their compositions for “Nashville”, so possibly already familiar to some) and everything in between.
I am sure that this album will really appeal to the more serious and discerning listener, who will appreciate the skill of this duo and its wonderful production. Striking Matches themselves say their music is “best left up to interpretation” , indeed it is hard to pigeon hole , but what does that matter as long as it is great music? And great it definitely is!