Brian G., Hollywood 09/01/2013
(Matthew) Houck’s rustic indie folktronica is at its most endearing, satisfying and impressive here, with his fragile but wistful croon meshing with country-rock and slight pop tunes (not to mention the album’s striking artwork, with Houck in a cowboy hat surrounded by scantily-clad women).
Outlaw country in the '60s and '70s was a rebellion against the Nashville sound by songwriters who wanted to express something more personal, fierce and strange than what Top 40 music was capable of, mainstream success be damned. The pain and pride in the songs of outlaws as diverse as Townes Van Zandt and Waylon Jennings, Billy Joe Shaver and Gram Parsons, is as real as a punch in the face -- it broadened the genre and gave it new life. Today that same spirit lives on in the high-wire, joyously self-subverting bastard country of Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Sun Kil Moon and Phosphorescent. Alabama-born Matthew Houck won legions of fans with his 2009 tribute to Willie Nelson and his 2010 breakout release Here's To Taking It Easy. His ragged, weary voice has an unbelivable intimacy and poignancy, equalled only by the heart-rending poetry of his lyrics. On Muchacho the songs developed out of instrumental soundscapes, often driven by synths or strings, with the epic build and flow of Wilco or Fleet Foxes. These songs would work pretty well in a '70s Sam Peckinpah movie, or something with Warren Oates as a hard-timing, self-loathing bastard hanging onto his last scrap of life out of pure meanness and habit. Call it Muchacho.