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A gospel of love on White's soulful debut

matthew e white BIG INNER (Domino)

Back in the day, labels competed to launch new acts in the post-festive season dog days. Following the pre-Christmas spending splurge, it didn't take many sales to make a dent on the charts.

With the majority of album sales registered in the last three months of the year, January releases aren't expected to go mega. But the lack of traffic leaves the way clear for new artists to make an impact.

First out this year is Matthew E White, a guitar-player from Richmond, Virginia, who enters the fray with a quirky set of musical influences and an overarching ambition that makes him worth noting.

White took his ass to university to study jazz. He came away with an ability to move the building blocks of instrumentation and musical progression around in a confident manner. Taking his lead from The Rotary Connection, a mid-1960s Chicago musical collective that featured among its members Minnie Ripperton and guitarist Phil Upchurch, White set up Spacebomb, a studio facility that catered for a bunch of local musicians that included brass and string players.

He's on a mission, for sure. And the seven lengthy tracks on his debut display a set of musical smarts that fits alongside many established greats such as Randy Newman, Spiritualized, Leon Russell and Lambchop.

The gospel influence appears heartfelt. White insists that eternal love is a powerful healing agent. "Jesus Christ is your friend," he riffs with funky conviction on Brazos.

The elegiac Gone Away is a meditation which switches to a repeated refrain, "He will break your kingdom down..." Big Love is buoyed by an infectious piano riff that might have slipped off the back of The Happy Mondays' Step On sessions.



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The unmistakable soulful influence, from the hushed singing style to the warm brass textures, is that of the Seventies output of New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint. White channels his inner Joe South on Will You Love Me while paying homage to Jimmy Cliff.

Eclectic but inclusive, White's got it.

He plays Whelans on Sunday, January 27.

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