Matt Harlan
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Matt Harlan

Austin, Texas, United States | INDIE

Austin, Texas, United States | INDIE
Band Americana Singer/Songwriter


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"Matt Harlan - Bow and Be Simple"

"I think it may end up being more stripped down though from an instrumentation aspect. I say things like that now, but there could be a full-blown orchestra and then I’d have to eat my words on that one...."

This was Matt Harlan’s response, in my latest interview with him in March 2010, after asking what we could expect from the release of a new album.

The answer is situated in the shape of “Bow and Be Simple”. It didn’t turn out to be a rich orchestrated album, but definitely not a ‘stripped down’ album either. Matt Harlan had a reason to choose for a band setting. "Bow and be Simple" carries, despite the well chosen accompaniment of the Danish band The Sentimentals, a clear Matt Harlan-stamp. And his stamp, as we may conclude again, represents a remarkable high quality.

He starts his album with the title track that, just like "Darker Shade of Grey", had been lying on the shelves for some time. What springs to the ear immediately in this pretty song, is Rachel Jones’ second part. The song was already familiar to me in an acoustic version, but because of the broader instrumentation and Jones’ second part, it managed to get even more powerful.

The fact that Matt Harlan is capable of pulling lyrics out of thin air is nothing new, since we can draw that back to his release of “Tips and Compliments” in 2009. And again this time he’s capable of captivating emotions and feelings in words like he does with the doubt, humbleness and simplicity, appearing in the opening number:
"And I'll whisper my words in the wind as it blows / I will bow and be simple 'cause it's all that I know...".

Besides that, he can write gorgeous lyrical texts as in (among) "The Ring". In this song he profoundly describes how a woman takes matters in her own hands after being prisoner for years of consistent domestic abuse.

Just the opening lyrics of this song immediately grab you by the throat:
"It's cold outside tonight babe, better wear your coat, you know we can't afford no doctor bills." / She might as well have told him: "Jack you ain't good for nothing" / 'Cause he answered with his hands and left her lying still...".

After many visible molestations as a consequence (‘the ring around her eye’), she takes revenge, ruthlessly.

"Too much going on" is of remarkable beauty. Every listener will recognize that feeling of sometimes not getting enough of two voices that seem to be suited for a wonderful collusion, which definitely accounts for Matt Harlan’s and Rachel Jones’ voices. Their community singing makes this number rise to big heights. Just listen how Rachel Jones confoundedly beautiful singing gives shape to the melodic line in the second verse. It causes one of the many flesh-creeping moments.

The song “Elevator Ride” also knows how to captivate me. It’s a “working man’s blues”. The dull, dark drums (Jacob Chano) and the heavy tones of Nikolaj Wolf’s fretless bass together form the wonderful sinister base, over which M.C. Hansen gives sound to his spatial sounding slide guitar.

The CD contains nine songs, of which eight recorded in 2011…in one day, that is, which gives you the illusion of engaging their performance live, while listening to the album. John Fomsgaard, who clearly felt the proper atmosphere, recorded the album.

Only the breathtaking, closing song “Long Ride Home” was recorded in 2010. Here Matt almost melancholically describes the big desire of longing for someone you love and, above that, the longing for someone you miss.

“You're the traces that I leave in every place I've gone / A candle in the window when the lights are on / You're a ghost in every room that I sleep alone / Smiling at the end of every long ride home..."

"Tips & Compliments" was (and still is) a remarkable fine album, but personally I estimate “Bow and Be Simple” higher still. And absolutely justified, this album displays this month’s number one on the Euro Americana Chart. In “Simple Song” (a true road song) Matt literally tells us how beautifully simple it can sometimes be to write some splendid songs:

"I tried to write a simple song, something closer to the truth / Three chords and a couple drops of rain / But I ended up just ramblin' on, the way I always do / Ain't nothing's changed... Nothing's changed..."
Matt Harlan’s songs truly deserve being heard.

(Ed Muitjens)

Translation: Linda Smits - Johnny's Garden

"Matt Harlan Sees Simple in a New Way"

Matt Harlan’s album Bow and Be Simple embraces seamless storytelling with equal measures hope and hurt. Stark humanity peppers his pages.

“She might as well have told him, ‘Jack, you ain’t good for nothing’/as he answered with his hand and left her lying still,” the deep-browed Houston-based songwriter sings on “The Ring.” “She married up a mean one, he don’t take no direction/Temper leads him where he needs to go.”

Harlan does not write about mindless Saturday night revelry. Instead, he elegantly captures Sunday morning redemption and regret.

“I think it all comes down to writing songs that are about actual issues and not about wanting to have some material thing or a party song,” he says. “The songs I like come from real people’s experiences and about actual issues. It’s not trying to fit some pre-defined image about going out to the clubs and drinking beer.”

Take the timeless title track: “I will bow and be simple and try as I can/To suffer the hildren and walk like a man,” he sings, “through high times and low lows with luck wearing thin/I will bow and be simple the best that I can.”

“I like to joke that ‘Bow and Be Simple’ was written to play at Unitarian Universalist church services but that’s not too far off,” he says. “I caught the tail end of this classical instrumental on the public radio station, and they said the name of the piece was ‘Bow and Be Simple.’ It was inspired by an old Quaker hymn. I immediately thought it was interesting that ‘simple’ has taken on different connotations since then.”

Bow and Be Simple, which follows his flawless Rich Brotherton-produced debut Tips and Compliments from 2009, comes with clear goals: Find heart and extract emotion. Show we’re in this together. Learn.

“I think people are looking for lots of things from folk music, but a lot of it is just finding a familiar feeling,” he says. “There’s resonance with our own history that you don’t always see in the fragmented digital world. You don’t know what to trust anymore, and everything becomes about branding and pre-set themes. I just want to come back to what the stories are. Plus it’s a lasting kind of music. It perseveres. When your iPhone dies, your guitar will still work.” - CMT Edge

"Stave Magazine Review"

I LOVE this album. I love it like I loved John Gorka's early works. Those perfect slices of small time American life. We eventually coined the term, “Americana” and applied it to this brand of country/folk/rock music. As the years have taken their toll on the sound, Americana has just become another cataloging system at some large CD store. But Matt Harlan delivers a genuine example of Americana with “Tips and Compliments.” He possesses a highly developed songwriting skill, and his vocal quality is somewhere between Gorka and James McMurtry (who is also a favorite of mine).
The songwriting is so well crafted and visual that I get lost in the atmosphere of the story within the song. The production quality is about as perfect as this brand of music can muster. Harlan's vocals are way out front, clear and dry without compression or effects. Next are the textures of guitar where the acoustic is the primary accompaniment. So this artist is head and shoulders above the pack. I'm really wishing he'd left Marshall, Texas with a Texas Music Award under his arm. He really should have because he's up there with Steve Brooks and Danny Santos and Robert Frith, but only one great one can take it home. We can honor Harlan by buying ourselves a copy of “Tips and Compliments.” It's a body of work for smart people.

I was especially drawn to track 3, “Something New” because it resonates with my own small town experience. Like the primary subject of the song, I was one of the brave one who was willing to try something new and leave the comfort of the rural experience. Harlan writes and sings, “What's the use in living if you can't some close to dying?” It's a brutal truth in the small town setting. He sings of older kids who never leave, grow up and befriend the next generation of young kids in order to feel alive and relevant. It's so pointed and true, and therefore a small town anthem for me. However, the whole album is this personal, and more than likely, there's a cut that resonates with any honest listener.

Harlan should transcend the Texas Music label simply because he's too smart and classy not too. I'm not talking a slick kind of class, but a musical class that is a whole package of good songwriting, good music, good singing, and great production without any tricks or treats that hide inadequacies. So if you're serious about singer/songwriters, you must get to know this artist. You will not be disappointed. - Stave Magazine

"Singer-songwriter of the year?"

Matt Harlan – Tips & Compliments

Singer-songwriter of the year?
At first sight Matt Harlan is a Texan singer-songwriter as there are many. But if you listen carefully to the first few tracks on his debut cd “Tips & Compliments” then you’re instantly hooked. It’s not easy to point out what makes Harlan that good but you can almost taste that this is a alternate country singer-songwriter of extraodanary class. Even at the first time listening to the album, you’re taken by his stories in a way that they come alive and that they mean something.
It isn’t his voice, because it’s not exceptional. Even his style feels more familiar then it has a own unique character. Harlan’s storytelling songs are so beautiful constructed with such sneaky melodies that soon you only want to hear more, especially because producer Rich Brotherton provided the songs with subtle instrumentations. The first half of the cd is the strongest part because there Harlan shows us his own style: somewhere between folk and country. Further on the alternate country component becomes stronger and then his music (and voice) show simularities with Robert Earl Keen at his best.
Harlan even has an other, much more own and interesting style, so it won’t surprise you that “Tips & Compliments” is a must have cd. It’s one of the best singer-songwrtiter debuts of 2010. - Pieter Wijnstekers of the magazine “Heaven”

"AltCountry.NL Review"

Matt Harland album came out sometime late last year in America, but recently this gem on the European market by nimble minds of Sonic Rendezvous. They deserve a compliment for this because it is entirely appropriate that attention alhier asked for Tips & Compliments (Berkalin Records), the wonderful debut CD from Matt Harlan. The man is a singer-songwriter from Houston, Texas who already earned his spurs in the local live circuit. Striking Tips & Compliments that Harlan on the album is not the typical gritty Texan loner hang out, but a singer-songwriter has the warmth and sensitivity radiates - Harlan idiom is more hot-blooded country soul with his ringing acoustic guitars and rolling organ. Anyway - cool Texan or sweltering in the Southern-style - which is especially important is that Matt Harlan really beautiful songs for the showcasing, which melodic and richly filled with banjo, mandolin, pedal steel, Hammond and great sounding acoustic and electric guitars. Tips & Compliments on a great talent to work that easily rivals the current generation of singer-songwriters. Great album. -

"FAME Review"

Tips and Compliments
Matt Harlan / Berkalin Records - BRK 10005

A review written for the Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange
by Bob Gottlieb

Tips and Compliments is the initial release from this Houston based songwriter, who is another of those fine singer/songwriters Texas seems to spawn -- must be something in the water. Harlan brought in Rich Brotherton to produce this disc of his songs, he wrote all but one and that one was co-written by him. This is a powerful introduction to this Texan who has already garnered a plethora of well-deserved accolades for his songwriting, including being a finalist on Prairie Home Companion's National Talent Show. His songs are written with an ability to get to the point in an expressive manner that also makes for spinning a good tale. His opening cut of Elizabethtown, is the edgy story of watching a 'brother' slide into drug use. He doesn't sugar coat the story and the effects on the family at all, he spins it straight. His songs contain those images that often stand stark naked in front of you causing you to stop and think.

He has some wonderful people playing with him on the disc; Rich Brotherton adds vocals, guitars, lap steel, mandolin, cittern and percussion; Warren Hood, fiddle; Riley Osbourn, keys; and Rankin Peters, upright and electric bass, to name but a few who stand out here. A well-crafted disc that is sure to help ratchet this songwriter's career up a hefty notch, and get him more of the audience he deserves.
Track List:

* Elizabethtown
* Skinny Trees of Mississippi
* Something New
* Suitcase Blues
* Driving Song
* Everyone Else
* Waiting for Godot

* Over the Bridge
* Tips & Compliments
* Walter
* Warm November
* You're Just Drunk
* Dresses

Edited by: David N. Pyles
- Acoustic Music

"Album Review: Tips & Compliments"

If Chris Knight had a son with Lucinda Williams, he might - just might - turn out to be as good a musician as Boerne, Texas native Matt Harlan. That's a high compliment, but Matt Harlan's new release "Tips & Compliments" deserves all of the accolades it can collect.

The album begins with the Americana gem "Elizabethtown." The lyrics and music penetrate the soul and build to a rousing chorus. The next track, "Skinny Trees Of Mississippi," proves to be a winning demonstration of Harlan's significant vocal chops. Like Chris Knight, Harlan paints a full and complete picture of his surroundings, thoughts and feelings in his accomplished lyrics.

Traditional country music is well represented with the stellar "Something New," "Over The Bridge" and "Warm November." Of the three, "Over The Bridge" has the best chance to be a major Texas country chart hit. Harlan's vocals fire on all cylinders, and the instrumentation is perfect. Texas radio program directors should add this song to their playlists immediately. The title track "Tips And Compliments" could also prove to be a popular radio single.

The most bluesy track on the album is the appropriately-titled "Suitcase Blues." It is followed by the best track on the album "Driving Song." Harlan's vocal performance oozes sincerity for the woman he loves. "Everybody Else" is a classic singer-songwriter cut that could easily find a home on Sirius-XM's The Loft.

"Waiting For Godot" is a winning mixture of country, folk and bluegrass, and listeners should take special notice of the reflective "Walter." The best pure country folk track is the remarkably serene "You're Just Drunk," which might have the best lyrics of any cut on the album. The project ends with the heartfelt love song "Dresses."

Matt Harlan's "Tips & Compliments" is an Americana gem that heralds the arrival of a major new music talent. In almost an hour, Matt Harlan shares the most intimate and interesting portions of his life in a musical package that deserves a wide audience. Matt Harlan certainly deserves a big heaping plate of compliments for his new album, and hopefully he'll be rewarded with a overloaded pocket full of tips, too.
- Country Chart

"Adam Carroll w/ Matt Harlan - Almost Austin - Pasadena, TX"

Written by Daniel Barker
Aug 15, 2009 at 07:00 PM

On a great night for live music everywhere in the Houston area, there was no place better to be on August 15th, 2009 than at the Almost Austin House Concert Series in Pasadena, Texas for a splendid song swap with Adam Carroll and Matt Harlan. HMR had this date circled for quite some time and with good reason as the tried and true Adam Carroll was pairing up with the rising up and comer who seems to have the Midas touch of late, Matt Harlan. The two Texas boys shared a night of story and song to an audience that was truly there for the music. Kenny Pipes pulled no punches to have a packed house amidst so much competition and HMR walked away knowing that the Pope of Pasadena scored another knock out in the 2009 series…

These two artists are skilled craftsman in the art of folk songwriting. They combine pure poetry, unpretentious vocals, and passionate picking to paint portraits and tell stories of the world they feel and see. Often funny and sometimes sad, this night was a biopsy of what HMR has come to love about the genre. Matt Harlan stuck mainly to originals off his up and coming release “Tips and Compliments” which was available for sale this night in the ultramodern form of a redeemable download card. Adam Carroll brought in a range of songs he has picked up along the way like Sinbad’s souvenirs to show and tale…Adam is still touring behind “Old Towne Rock N Roll” but was discussing an upcoming release of new material. The Guild guitar wielding duo played two sets, each a little over an hour and was gracious enough to interact with their fans before, after and in between...Always a nice perk here at AAS…

Thankfully for us, the twosome had played the night before down at Wrecks Bell’s Old Quarter in Galveston and it seemed they had grown fairly comfortable together. The crowd seemed to have surprised both of them, not only in a packed room but in knowledge and enthusiasm. A true double bill as people would have come to see either solo but together proved to be a no brainer.
Adam Carroll came roaring out of the San Marcos college scene labeled as the next Robert Earl Keen with much help from the legendary Lloyd Maines. Sticking to his traveling singer songwriter life he has written with or for many talented artists over the years as was proved tonight. Playing songs associated with the likes of Hayes Carll, Michael O’Conner, Mark Jungers, The Band of Heathen’s Gordy Quist, Slaid Cleaves, Scott Nolan, Roger Marin, etc…Maybe not the most common names on Clear Channel but the heart of the modern singer-songwriter movement without a doubt.

Matt Harlan has been everywhere as of late more than likely due to his work ethic. He is an active member in The Front Porch Society, a guitarist in the band Country Store Buffalo and foremost with his promising solo career which has lead to songwriting awards and a great deal of buzz in the Americana movement. With MH’s polished picking skills and rock solid delivery he stood toe for toe with AC all night. It was evident that he had inspired AC to keep it tight. That along with the crowd put AC on top of his game for one of the best nights HMR has seen him perform.

The first set highlights were MH’s “Your Just Drunk” which puts a smile on any drinkers face and a touching “Ricebirds” by AC riddled with his underrated heartbreaking harmonica...However, “Milwaukee’s Best” by AC was the gut buster of the night for the one line wonder with lyrics in his arsenal like “pissin’ on your own grave”, and “rolled pecan logs down a Stuckey’s”. The crowd proved the be the official sound man as adjustments were suggested between songs until the sound was just right…

The second set highlights were AC’s “Dogwood and Blondie” of which he shed some lyrical light that gave the song some deeper meaning for the comic book fan…MH continued to impress with gems like “Walter” written at a songwriters conference and “Mozart”…Again, AC had the house rocking with the Leon Russell inspired “Gypsy Shuffler” where the entire crowd clapped in unison for the entire song…no bullshit…It was a proud moment for AAS. For his encore, AC, still in open tuning from the previous song, played the most fitting “Highway Prayer” which was flat out impressive… MH closed the evening with the personal tragedy tale of “Heavy Steel and Spinning Wheels” written about a hometown friends untimely passing.

The set list for this night was:
1st Set:
1. Half Developed Song - mh
2. Billy Gibbon’s Beard - ac
3. You're Just Drunk – mh
4. Ricebirds – ac
5. Too Much Going On – mh
6. Dream on – ac
7. Bow and Be Simple – mh
8. Milwaukee’s Best – ac
9. The Easy Road – mh
10. Hi-Fi Love – ac
11. Slow Moving Train – mh
12. Rainin’ - ac
13. Dresses – mh
14. Dirty South – ac

2nd Set:
1. Girl With the Dirty Hair - ac
2. Walter – mh
3. Blondie and Dogwood – ac
4. Skinny Trees in Mississippi – mh
5. Racecar Joe – ac
6. Mozart – mh
7. Black fl - Houston Music Review

"Matt Harlan interview"

Interview by: Ed M.
Your CD "Tips & Compliments" is exceptionally
well received in the Netherlands and in Belgium,
witness the first spot the album reached in the
Euro Americana Chart of the month march 2010.
How are the reactions in the States?
It’s been pretty amazing to me how well the
album has been doing. Getting to #1 on the Euro
Americana Chart was exciting and surprising at
the same time, and the stateside reaction been
killer, too. It made it into the top 100 on the
Americana chart not long after it came out and
right now it’s nominated for Album of the Year
in the Texas Music Awards. I even had to order a
second run after just a little more than 3 months.
It’s definitely opening doors that were previously
closed to me.

You indicate that Townes Van Zandt is a great
inspiration for you. In what ways has he been an
influence to you? What other artists do you
Townes is probably the biggest reason I ended up
in this singer-songwriter/Americana genre.
Growing up in a small Texas town like Boerne,
you might think I loved country and acoustic
music all my life, but I really tried to rebel
against all that when I was young. While my
friends were going down the road to see Robert
Earl Keen at the county fair, I was going into the city to play in rock bands that sounded closer to the
Smashing Pumpkins. It wasn’t until I was in college that I found out that Pancho and Lefty was not a Willie
Nelson song. But once I did, I had to learn more about this Townes Van Zandt character. I ended up with a
copy of High, Low and In Between, which is sort of like a retrospective with a bunch of great Townes
songs on it. I loved every single one. They seemed real in a way that I wasn’t finding in the music I had
been playing and listening to. After hearing Townes, that was it. I quit the band, started listening to folks
like Gillian Welch, Gram Parsons, Steve Earle and Guy Clark. I found that my initial approach to the guitar
and songwriting was really more similar to what they were doing. It’s funny to me that I ended up making
this first proper album with Rich Brotherton producing when you wouldn’t have caught me dead at a
Robert Earl Keen show when I was growing up. That was so different from where I started out playing

Your lyrics are often visual and I think you have the ability to create a scene where the characters are well
pictured. Can you tell me something about the proces of writing those lyrics and what is there first: the
lyrics or the music?
For me, it almost always starts with the lyrics, or at least an idea for the lyrics will come first. Maybe I’ll
get one line that strikes me and from there either a melody will come, or another 5 or 6 lines. I’ve got
scraps of paper all over my apartment, my car, in drawers, notes jotted down in spare notebooks, just
spread out all over the place with one or two lines scrawled down. Sometimes I’ll come across them later
and a there will be a spark of inspiration that turns into a song, and sometimes I’ll read them and have no
idea where I was coming from. Either way there is always an element of revision until I get the words to fit.
Sometimes they fit on the first go-round and I don’t mess with it. I really try to keep the original idea
preserved even if the phrases start to diverge. Recently I’ve been messing around with the ‘voice notes’
application on the iPhone. I can see myself using that more and more to capture the full melody along with
the first take on the lyrics.
I personally think that the instrumentation on "Tips & Compliments" is very well chosen.
A very good example is the use of the fretless bass on "Skinny Trees of Mississippi”. Did you already have
the full instrumental interpretation in yourhead before you started the recordings or is this a process that
took shape during the recordings?
Thank you. Laying out the instrumentation was part preconception and part luck. Rich (Brotherton) asked
me to list out what instruments I thought would go well with each song and that was the first critical look I
took at the instrumentation. I had always thought in more general terms about it, just thinking that I like the
sounds of a fiddle, a steel guitar or a mandolin. But when I had to start placing these instruments within the
context of each song I started to realize that not every sound goes well with every song. I came up my list
and as much description as I could for what role I thought each instrument would play. But that’s just the
first part. Once you get the players and you’re sitting in the room to record it gets to be more magical. For
“Skinny Trees” I knew we wanted something to ring out and have a droning quality to it to balance out the
bounce of the guitar parts. We started talking about Jaco Pastorius and the work he did with Joni Mitchell.
After mentioning this to Rankin Peters (bass) he pulled out t -

"Outsiders: Album Review"

It is the poetry of little things, the simplicity of the gestures of a hidden life, told with an exquisite air of
narrative that infuses the songwriting of this musician in Houston debut record. Matt Harlan is one of the
best gift that some country rock copyright could do these days: it has the lyric, profound gesture, describing
the intensity that only the storyteller of race have ever had and it seems to follow the same lesson Robert Earl Keen, Chris Knight, Slaid Cleaves, in short, of that generation of songwriter who made the key
electro-acoustic tale in a way to recall the other America. It is no coincidence that in conducting musical
Tips and Complimets - released late last autumn but only circulated in recent months with interest and also
in the regular American tours - are involved Rich Brotherton (producer and owner of guitars and lap steel),
Warren Hood (fiddle), Marty Muse (pedal steel), and other musicians of that Texas looks to Mecca of
Austin and the best tradition of so-called Troubadour.

The School of Matt Harlan is not denied, although the quality of his melodic and graceful gesture sound not
hold up his voice and never deal with the characters and stories (including personal and autobiographical)
through a voice often transparent and polite. The general tone of Tips and Compliments is indeed mostly
acoustic and strictly folk, with sporadic, modest acceleration country rock: it happens in Elizabethtown, a
wonderful guide and bitter family of a brother on the wrong road, and again in "Something New" and
"Over the Bridge Masterclasses of style in music of that Robert Earl Keen (but we should perhaps add the
lyricism of the best Greg Trooper) seem to mirror. Yet here is not so much in shape, because it really
matter more than ever the words: Matt Harlan has a nostalgic and very deep to be put on display, following
the wave of emotion and a stream of consciousness that evokes memories, glimpses of revelations in
Skinny Trees of Mississippi, Suitcase Blues and Driving Song, glancing at the world and its injustices in
Waiting for Godot.

The dress for this dance is of course in line with the class of the pen by Harlan, a fiddle waves peel on the
sensitive country rock of the title track, blends and textures, then to dry and fingerpicking Rootsy Walter
and You're Just Drunk, finishing to clear any frills and get to the heart of the author running acoustic
Dresses. The impression then is that this is a folksinger in the full maturity and the numerous accolades
(from the festival Kerville participation in the famous Prairie Home Companion) is happening nowadays.
Her songs have the makings of a novelist and god only knows what we still bisono of people of this caliber.
(Fabio Cerbone)? -

"Artist of the Week: Matt Harlan"

"Harlan is, for our money, basically a young man's James McMurtry. His voice has that sultry, coarse drawl to it that allows him to say things like "Houston's heavy air" without sounding completely obnoxious." - Shea Serrano

Each Wednesday, Rocks Off arbitrarily appoints one lucky local performer or group "Artist of the Week," bestowing upon them all the fame and grandeur such a lofty title implies. Know a band or artist that isn't awful? Email their particulars to

It's hard to explain why, but we're big fans of folk music. We remember being juniors in high school and there was this senior football player/world-class prick who seemed to follow every really "interesting" anecdote he would tell with the phrase "charge it to the game." (As is usually the case, his grand adventures always involved his Mitsubishi 3000 GT which was pretty slick, but in the douchiest way possible.)

He was always saying stuff like "I got a ticket doing 95 yesterday in my GT. I'll just charge it to the game," but he never could explain exactly what it meant. He'd always say something infuriating like "Charge it to the game means to, like, charge it to the game." The weird thing was, though, that we all knew what it meant. And that's the exact same way we feel about folk music. We like it, we understand it, but we'll never be able to tell you why.

That's why we felt like, among all other things, we need to induct a true folk singer-songwriter into the Artist of the Week roll call. Enter Matt Harlan.

Harlan is, for our money, basically a young man's James McMurtry. His voice has that sultry, coarse drawl to it that allows him to say things like "Houston's heavy air" without sounding completely obnoxious. And anyone who's followed this space over the last nine months knows that that's more than enough to earn him a spot. We reached out to Harlan and asked him about trying to explain what makes a song "folk," whether or not he accidentally admitted to kissing a guy in a song, and the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique. Aces.

Rocks Off: Most pressing issues get addressed first: How many campfires have you performed around? Yours seems the kind of music is just perfect for that sort of thing.

Matt Harlan: Last count I think it was around 419 or 421, but sometimes it gets tough to count that high. And there's so many variations on the whole deal. I mean, sometimes there's not even any camping involved at these so-called campfires. I counted a lot of them out because there was no sleeping involved.

Seriously though, growing up in the Hill Country we spent a lot of time in the woods and cell phones just don't give off enough light. But, yeah, I play campfires. There's really no denying it.

RO: One thing we've always been a little confused about, and hopefully you can clear this up, but what exactly is the difference between acoustic folk and acoustic country? It seems a very subtle one.

MH: If you figure that one out, please tell me so I can properly categorize myself. Honestly, I think it's as simple as whether the audience is drunk on beer or wine. There's a body-hair-to-DWI ratio involved, too.

RO: Of course.

MH: You know another tough one? Americana vs. Texas Country. Seems easy at first, but it turns out there's no geographical basis at all. I tend to claim Americana, but with a folky, acoustic-country feel. From Texas.

RO: You know what we think is most impressive about your music? Your songs seem to have this sort of ungirded flow about them; they cover a lot of ground without feeling like they're meandering, if that makes sense, and that's something that is hard to do without sounding like you're trying to do it. Walk us through how you go about writing a song like, say, "Elizabethtown," which we would guess is particularly meaningful to you.

MH: Wow, thanks a bunch. It seems weird, but the more words there are, the easier it is for the wrong one to stick out - there's just not enough room for the wrong line. Writing for me comes down to dissatisfaction and note-taking. I'll take a line that sounds cool, write it on the back of a receipt or something and stick it in my glove box. I usually lose them, but if I can remember the line it'll make it onto another receipt until I find a song for it.

That whole "slideshows taped up behind my eyes" thing in "Elizabethtown" was a memory from this troubled girl I knew, but then I put it with this story that revolves around another troubled friend and the song almost finished itself. But that line took more than a year to find a home. I've lost tons of songs because I couldn't get the words to fit right.

RO: Oh, there's a section in "Walter" where you're talking about spending your first night in jail and, if we're not mistaken, it sounds an awful lot like you admit to kissing a dude. "Kissed a pretty mouth..." is the line we're thinking of, we believe. Care to explain?

MH: Well, now I know you're paying atten - Houston Press


"Bow and Be Simple" - Released 2012; recorded in Denmark with The Sentimentals
"Tips and Compliments," premier studio album recorded with Rich Brotherton;
"Live and Rambling", live album (out of print);



Matt Harlan is a troubadour of the first degree, bringing songs of bus-stops, coffee-shops and lives overlooked to stages across his home-state of Texas, the USA and Europe. His expressive vocals recall Chris Smither and Chris Knight, shading his poignant songs with soaring heart and aching grit.

The past few years have been big for Matt. After being selected as the winner of 2011's Telluride Bluegrass Festival's Troubadour contest and appearing with Lyle Lovett in promotions for the DVD, "For the Sake of the Song" he embarked on a second successful European tour, released a sophomore album to critical acclaim and has been sharing stages with American music icons such as Guy Clark and Mary Gauthier at prestigious festivals including the Wildflower Arts & Music Festival and the world-renowned Kerrville Folk Festival. In 2013 he was selected as the Singer-Songwriter of the year in the Texas Music Awards.

Hot on the heels of his latest release, Matt has continues to open shows for the likes of James McMurtry and Dave Alvin while appearing at house concerts with other Folk/Americana up-and-comers like John Fullbright and Brian Hudson.

Matt's first album, "Tips & Compliments" and follow-up, "Bow and Be Simple" both debuted at #1 on the Euro Americana Charts and songs from the albums have garnered awards from the Billboard World Songwriting Contest, American Songwriter Magazine, the Wildflower Arts & Music Festival and the Snowbird Mountain Music Festival.

Americana fans should be familiar with the stellar crew that joins Harlan on "Tips & Compliments". Produced by Rich Brotherton, the disc features vocals from Phoebe Hunt (Belleville Outfit), fiddle from Warren Hood, and Marty Muse (Robert Earl Keen) on pedal steel. The latest album, "Bow and Be Simple" brings a new take on Matt's poetic Americana with the help of Danish backing band, The Sentimentals.

Band Members