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City of Black and White by Mat Kearney

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Review of City of Black & White

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The Advocate



City of Black and White by Mat Kearney

Reviewed by Susan Lloyd

"Kearney bares his heart and soul in several songs, writing with an honesty that is sometimes missing in music that is destined for mainstream success..."

Mat Kearney’s City of Black and White is the follow up to this singer-songwriter’s massively successful second album Nothing Left to Lose, and Kearney fans will be thrilled to find that while he doesn’t veer too much from his laid-back punchy acoustic style, he does bring his music to the next level. According to the bio on his homepage, Kearney’s been on the road since NLTL hit the airwaves, and the songs he’s chosen for City of Black and White’s track listing are a reflection of the time he’s spent touring.

Kearney has a knack for soothing a listener with his distinct voice while at the same time getting the pulse racing with intricate rhythmic patterns. “Fire and Rain”, the second song on the album line-up is the perfect example of that kind of musical command. Kearney’s vocals are solid throughout while the song slowly builds with a pounding percussion line that doesn’t overpower and steal the spotlight from poignant lyrics.

It’s easy to forget that a piano is truly a percussive instrument, but Kearney effectively uses it as such on “Closer to Love” as the bell-like tones of a piano punctuate the verses. “Closer to Love” also features a persistent acoustic guitar that isn’t always at the forefront of the track but peeks out at just the right moments, reminding listeners that Kearney could perform these songs with just that one instrument and they would still be solid.

We hear the comfortable strum of the acoustic open “Lifeline”, and coupled with Kearney’s easy tenor, the song promises to be one that has impact. Kearney seems to have mastered the ability to relate to everyman’s struggle, and the lyrics on “Lifeline” prove that. Kearney finds common ground with his fellow man during this honest musical conversation about struggling with circumstances, looking for answers, and maintaining hope. Lyrically, this is the song I find most appealing on the album.

Kearney does a better than average job with lyrics throughout the majority of the album, but there are times when things seem a little sub-par in the poetry department. For example in the stripped down ballad-esque “New York to California” the song moves along beautifully and paints the picture of the vulnerability that exists when two people are truly in love with each other. And while Kearney fits the words and images together throughout the verses and the chorus, things get dicey on the bridge with “la la la la la la Oh it’s not too far la la la la la la la Oh to where you are” making that section of the song seem out of place.

Just two songs later on the track list is the stirring “Annie”. I love the vibe of the song and there’s something about it that really feels a lot like something Chris Isaak would write. There’s a drum backbeat that also whispers of Johnny Cash, but it’s Kearney’s poetry that really shines on this one. He has such a knack for writing a song-story, and “Annie” is one of his best.

Kearney bares his heart and soul in several songs, writing with an honesty that is sometimes missing in music that is destined for mainstream success, and the acoustic driven “On and On” is probably the most transparent song in the collection. It may end up being one of my favorites as I listen more, and it will be a favorite simply because of the honesty that shines through it.

Kearney has definitely put together an impressive album in City of Black and White, and I hope it receives the airplay it deserves. “Lifeline” can be a solid hit on Christian AC radio, and I can see songs like “New York to California”, “City of Black and White” being mainstream AC hits. The album feels a lot like something Bruce Hornsby would have put together in the late 80’s, and reaching back into the archives seems to be a musical trend across all genres of music that is paying off for artists. It may be Kearney’s vocal similarities to Coldplay’s Chris Martin that will cause new listeners to sit up and take notice, but anyone who digs deeper into Kearney’s song catalog will be won over by his style and consistency. City of Black and White adds to that catalog in a way that makes Kearney’s body of work more impressive.

Susan Lloyd is a professional photographer in Charleston, South Carolina who specializes in shooting concerts. She holds a degree in Music Education and has worked as a worship leader and as a youth minister. She is passionate about all types of music and enjoys encouraging and supporting bands who seek to glorify God. She also loves movies, animals, traveling, and making new friends. She and her husband have three kids and have been married for nearly 17 years. More info about Susan's photography can be found at www.susanlloydphotography.com or www.susieq3c.wordpress.com