That tall, rangy, nerdy-looking, bespectacled dude stood on the Brudenell stage, the one with the long, unkempt hair, straggly beard and vaguely unassuming air is Matthew E. White. He is 30 years old and hails from Richmond in Virginia. He had a dream; to create a record label, studio and house band, and for them all to be self-contained under the umbrella of his attic roof. He called this dream Spacebomb and Big Inner was the initial realisation of his vision. There should be little doubt that it will surely be one of the albums of the year. Whilst it may be his name that adorns its cover, such is White’s humility and generosity of spirit he prefers to point towards the five men from his local musical community who stand beside him tonight as the reasons behind the critical success of the record.
Big Inner is the product of the many lessons Matthew E. White has learnt from the past. Be they drawn from his own personal experiences of a close proximity to the Christian movement or the many and varied musical influences he has absorbed from jazz to rock n roll to reggae, Stax and Motown, they all combine to inform his work. The records playing out over the Brudenell’s PA tonight, the ones in particular that bookend his performance – The Rolling Stones’ ‘I Just Want To See His Face’, Stevie Wonder, The Wailers’ ‘400 Years’ and the heart-rending beauty of The Band’s ‘In A Station’ – are the perfect illustration of this. Yet for all of Big Inner’s innate country soul and its beautifully understated choir, string and horn arrangements, Music From Big Pink the album from which the last of these songs is taken is perhaps its closest reference point. Both albums mine the same lyrical seams of life, death, pain, suffering and an intrinsic power to believe and both seem to yearn for some old fashioned, half-forgotten bygone age.
Stripped of their sublime orchestration and the creeping stealth of their studio creations, the six songs from Big Inner (‘Hot Toddies’ is the only one not to be aired) played here tonight are far more immediate, their true cosmic country hearts beating louder and clearer than ever before. The stellar funky grooves of ‘Steady Pace’ and ‘Big Love’ place them somewhere between Little Feat and southern boogie, the fragile gossamer of White’s recorded voice now replaced by something far richer and stronger. ‘ One Of These Days’ and the epic finale of ‘Brazos’ capture White’s gospel roots, the latter’s early invitation to “take it easy, baby” rendered nigh on impossible by the spiralling cataclysm of its final onslaught.
Sixty minutes earlier the band had opened up with a lovely, loose canter through Neil Young’s ‘Are You Ready for the Country?’ They also recreated ‘Sail Away’; an expressive, respectful nod to one of White’s great musical heroes, Randy Newman, a man to whose front door he had made a long pilgrimage years earlier only to be advised by Newman’s housekeeper that he was not at home. The thought that he may well have been clearly still haunts White. There was also time for a new song, ‘Signature Move’, another funky space reincarnation that will see the recorded light of day when Big Inner is re-released next month complete with a bonus EP. If Big Inner is to be mentioned in those end-of-year best album lists then this show must surely also rank high in whatever equivalent there may be for top ten gigs.