Matt Blake is a decidedly self-effacing sort of guy. He paid his dues, working his way up the proverbial ladder, gaining practical music business experience while cultivating what it takes to write songs that resonate with others, just like his musical heroes continue to resonate with him.
Now, with the launch of his second album, Cheaper To Fly, he’s clearly come into his own. A set of songs flush with verve, vitality and lyrics that speak directly from the heart, it represents a major step in a trajectory that continues to bring him closer to his own particular prominence.
Recorded in Los Angeles at Dave’s Room, and produced by Doug Pettibone, the new album was engineered by David Spreng, with overdubs by Seth Horan. “Big Snow”, “Hammer and Tambourine” and “Keep on Dancing” were mixed by Mark Howard. “Save the World” and “Help Me” mixed by Seth Horan. All the other offerings were mixed by Craig Brock.
The all-star band that played on the record includes Pettibone on guitars, mandolin, pedal steel, and background vocals, Patrick Warren on keys, David Piltch playing bass, Don Heffington on percussion and Alice Wallace, Kim Yarborough and Gia Ciambotti adding vocals.
Matt himself wrote all the songs and sang all the lead vocals.
“My music often comes to me in the form of a stream of consciousness,” Matt explains. “Sometimes I come up with a chorus and a bridge, but most of the time, the songs emerge through whatever I sing as I strum the guitar. Sometimes the songs feel raw, given their rambling origins, but inevitably, I learn them and ingrain the melodies.”
Matt points to songs such as “Cheaper to Fly,” “Whole New Thing” and Help Me” as the songs that seem to best represent sentiments he was intent on expressing.
“Cheaper To Fly” is a reflective, carefree tune with an easy, affable narrative revolving around a special relationship, one that allowed newfound love to lift and soar. “It also referenced the time I spent on the road with Lucinda Williams,” Matt remarks. “But all in all, it reflects a positive time in my life where the possibilities seemed endless.”The wistful and reflective “Whole New Thing” follows suit. “It’s pretty self explanatory,” Matt suggests. “Here again, it’s about the joy of discovery and finding that special someone. I consider it one of the purest songs on the record.”
On the other hand, the emotions are multi-hued, as the title implies, “Help Me” recognizes the need to reach out when times are tough and anxiety seems overwhelming. “It can be hard to ask for help,” Matt reflects, “However we all need to do so at one time or another.” The song’s sensual tones and sense of quiet contemplation reflect that idea with an affecting ambiance.
That said, he also enjoys a rousing repast as well. Songs such as the decidedly joyful “Big Snow” and the immediately engaging “Ohio” take on an ebullient and effusive quality.
“I had left Los Angeles and moved into an old monastery in Appleton, Wisconsin, which had been converted into housing that allowed artists to live and work rent free,” he recalls. “It was a bit of a culture and climate shock since I arrived at the beginning of winter. Nevertheless, I grew to love it.”
“Ohio” pursues a similar theme. “I partially grew up in Ohio, and when I left, I thought I had made my escape. Later I came to realize that it was a great place after all.”
He should know. Born in Leonardtown, Maryland, he was raised by a father who was a minister and social activist and a mother who was a librarian. The family was always resettling, moving between Washington D.C., Cleveland, and Warren Ohio. Matt got caught up in those constantly changing environs, moving on to Chicago, Fayetteville Arkansas, Albuquerque, Nashville, Austin, Los Angeles and eventually Appleton, Wisconsin. While in Nashville he got a job working at the famous Ryman Auditorium as a stagehand. He met an endless parade of stars and celebrities who played the fabled stage — among them, George Jones, Merle Haggard and even Keith Richards, for whom he wrote a song that appeared on his first album, “Keith Richards’ Bones.”
Eventually he gained employment with none other than the aforementioned Lucinda Williams, taking on a variety of jobs that included handling merch, assistant tour manager and eventually tour manager. At one point, her guitarist — that very same Doug Pettibone — overheard him playing a song on guitar and urged him to show off his skills to Lucinda. She was so impressed that she had him open on tour, both in the U.S. and abroad. Pettibone himself went on to produce Matt’s first album, All the Dirt in Town, which also found Lucinda showing her support by sharing a duet on one of its songs.
Matt names a number of influences — Hank Williams, Lou Reed and Johnny Cash, among them — but he always makes his first priority to pay service to the song. And with Cheaper to Fly, that commitment becomes clear.