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Whammy Bar Guitar Bliss On Matthew Sweet’s New Catspaw

Matthew Sweet’s new album is a near one-man-band production that feels more like Neil Young’s Crazy Horse than Todd Rundgren or Emitt Rhodes. Indeed, the first thing I noticed about Catspaw is that Matthew is revisiting the groovy Neil Young-sounding guitar textures from his early 90s peak. 

Neil fans will hear it immediately – that overdriven distorted amplifier crunch from an electric guitar outfitted with a Bigsby whammy bar. Depending on what period of Neil Young’s career, that sound might have been created with a Gretsch of some sort (I think he played a White Falcon for a while) or the beloved old black Les Paul he still tours with. Whatever Sweet is playing, he really has nailed that sound!

I fell in love with that kind of guitar tone which popped up on some of Matthew’s early albums like Girlfriend, Altered Beast and 100 Percent Fun. But really, it was the promotional album Goodfriend, — which was thankfully issued on vinyl commercially for Record Store Day some years back (click here for that review) — that made me a big fan. Besides some absolutely gorgeous alternate versions of songs from the Girlfriend album, it is notable for its inclusion of an absolutely smoking version of Young’s mid-70s classic “Cortez The Killer.”  

I’ve picked up a number of Sweet’s recent albums and they are good, great even. Kimi Ga Suki was made for the Japanese market initially and is one of my faves of the more recent releases.  Sunshine Lies and Tomorrow Forever are also fine releases with tight production and great bands driving them (including some fine lead guitar work on the latter by a friend of mine, John Moreman!). 

And I just discovered Tomorrow’s Daughter, the companion release to Tomorrow Forever. So, its not like Sweet has been sitting idle — he has a lot of albums out since his 90s heyday. Thus Catspaw can’t be labeled a “comeback” or “return to form” or any of those popular reviewer cliche phrases.   

But it is still just real nice to have a new album out by him right here and now. This feels right. And the fact that its his first genuine solo album — he plays almost all the instruments (save for the drums) — makes it that much more personal.

Catspaw is interesting in how Sweet is mining some of his musical past, seemingly quite effortlessly and perhaps that is also part of what makes it sound so appealing. Many of the grooves here remind me of that sort of mid-tempo elegance he showed on live versions of his older songs, such as “Someone To Pull The Trigger” on the Son Of Altered Beast EP. Most of the songs are mid-tempo in nature which allows him to lean into those Neil Young-meets-Richard Lloyd inspired solos very nicely and it works hauntingly on songs like “Come Home” and “Best of Me.”

“Stars Explode” works that epic Crazy Horse vibe again, this time echoing Neil’s “Cinnamon Girl”… 

Dare I say it?  Catspaw is the best new album that Neil Young and Crazy Horse have not yet made this year. 

Perhaps the best part about Catspaw is that it is a single album with a tight focus.  If I had any criticism of the last two albums (mentioned earlier) it was that they were perhaps a bit too sprawling. Perhaps two shorter albums could have been crafted out of the one. Of course, 20/20 hindsight is always easy to say things like that — at the time I am sure those records probably felt just right. 

And Catspaw feels right for this moment when we all could use a little bit of dreamy rock ’n roll groove to takes us someplace better. In fact, I kinda wish Neil Young would put out a grand new statement soon. 

Come to think of it, when the Pandemic eases up, Matthew Sweet and Neil Young would make for a great double bill tour I would love to go see. 

Just sayin’…

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