Matthew Morgan is a folk troubadour of the most anachronistic sort, who pulls from Nick Drake as much as Neil Young. His tenor voice floats above delicate arrangements, but its warm, soulful character gives the feeling of great depth. A storyteller whose songs feel less like stories than paintings. A multi-instrumentalist, he crafts his songs playing the guitar, piano, organ, harmonica, and a variety of other stringed instruments.
A lifelong Midwesterner, Morgan grew up in Ohio in a musical family — his mother is an award-winning vocal and piano coach, his grandfather a professional saxophone player from the big band era. At the age of seven, he began singing solos in church and he’s been pursuing the stage ever since. Studying opera and classical voice at Capital University Conservatory of Music, followed by a stint studying musical theater at Kent State University, he struggled to find his calling until an illness left him unable to work for a number of years.
After building the courage to sing his own songs, he wrote, produced, engineered and largely performed his 2011 debut Red Silhouettes himself, and the success of that record led to the formation of a proper band, Matthew Morgan and the Lost Brigade. The group’s 2012 effort, Found, was nominated for three Indie Music Channel awards, and scored synchronization licenses with major outlets like MTV, the Disney Channel, the Discovery Network, and Viacom via Tinderbox Music.
Two years ago, Morgan parted ways with The Lost Brigade and recorded a new solo EP with producer Nate Lockwood earlier this year. While The Lost Brigade’s sound was indebted to contemporary indie rockers like Wilco and the Decemberists, the upcoming Empathy for Inanimate Objects EP calls to mind the happier moments of Elliott Smith or the open-ended ponderings of Tom Brosseau.
>Songs like “Lost At Sea” show a truly remarkable ability to craft an atmosphere, with reverb-laden violin by Chicago native Sarah Blick and mournful low-end movement courtesy of Ohio cellist Greg Byers. “I believe that a lonely night / is a reason for changing,” Matthew sings, and his voice betrays a weary optimism, the sound of one who has seen enough to know what he’s talking about. Meanwhile, “Hold On I’m Comin’,” a song originally written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter for the iconic soul duo Sam & Dave, is something Morgan stumbled upon accidentally, and his arrangement shows not only his appreciation for the source material, but his innovative approach to arrangement. Bearing more resemblance to the swaggering stomp of contemporary country artists like Brandi Carlile than the horn-laden funk of the original, this version drips with menace, making the titular phrase more threat than reassurance.
However, it’s on the fragile, keening “First Day” that Morgan’s voice as a songwriter is most plainly heard. A gently-building arrangement, with more layers revealing themselves as the song progresses, the wordless chorus supports a painful lyric about the end of a relationship. “I’ll pick you up in the morning / and meet you at the station, / outside the dilettante cafe,” he sings at the top of the verse, “And you can tell me how you spent the night, / sipping bourbon in the candlelight, / waiting for the house to get quiet.” There is no optimism, there is no menace. There is nothing in his voice but a unique kind of sadness, and profound sympathy for all who can recognize it.
>With his various groups, Morgan has performed at prestigious Chicago venues such as Subterranean, Martyrs’, the Double Door and Hard Rock Cafe, as well as festivals like Taste of Lincoln Avenue and a showcase at SXSW in 2013. On August 22nd Matthew Morgan and the Family Band will appear at the SubT Lounge in Chicago to celebrate the release of the new EP before Matt embarks on a series of short tours. With a new record and a band of accomplished musicians hand-picked to bring it to life, the night will be a gathering of friends, an impassioned group sing-along, a celebration of accomplishments large and small. So hold on. They’re comin’.