Matt Patershuk’s If Wishes Were Horses drinks from the fount of pure western Canadian country spring water—with a folky blues chaser. There’s nothing Nashville about this music. It wears the authentic Alberta gear.
There’s a full band ignition behind some tunes. ‘The Blues Don’t Bother Me’ is a tough tumble with Matt’s dice-shaking voice, bass, drums, electric guitar, and a wonderful organ. ‘Velvet Bulldozer’, an ode to Albert King (of Born Under a Bad Sign fame), struts with greasy acuity and sings from a blues man’s soul, a soul that works all day “making big cats growl” and then at night when he “makes his Lucy sing again”. Sure, go buy an Albert King record, but this is a pretty great tribute.
Just an odd idea: As a kid growing up in Midwest Wisconsin, the stores never stocked real blues records. So, I bought Ten Years After, CCR, Savoy Brown, The Groundhogs, Cream, and Robin Trower. Imagine my surprise when I finally heard Howlin’ Wolf and Bo Diddley! Perhaps, this record, too, can enlighten the masses.
That said, ‘Ernest Tubb Had Fuzzy Slippers’ is a fantastic ballad, in the sense that it tells a tragic tale. Apparently, our Ernest had a problem with the drink. And, apparently (again!) he had a problem with one Jim Denny! A shot was fired, but drunken insight sometimes doesn’t quite align with a gun sight. And, of course, the rest is country music history, which is now detailed in this song. I’m not sure if this matches the tragedy of fellow Canadian Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘Edmund Fitzgerald’ saga, but it’s still a pretty cool tune.
The Grateful Dead’s ‘Sugaree’ gets a rousing rendition that is dipped in yet another pure sip of Canadian spring water and then chased down with barroom booze, a slow boogie piano, and crushed Friday night peanut shucks.
Now, ‘Circus’ is simply a great folk song that’s driven with an urgent violin. It avoids the cliché, and sings with “fire in our bellies” that is worthy of a Bruce Springsteen nod.
Ditto for ‘Bear Chase’. Country, blues, and folk cross wires in the catchy tune.
There’s a repeated motif of four ‘Horse’ instrumental interludes. They all have parenthetical subtitles like ‘For Bravery & Good Fortune’, ‘For Lighter Loads’, ‘To Know the Future’, and ‘For Fond Remembrance’. It’s all a nice unifying motif for the record.
Matt P. also mines the rich vein of authentic country & western. ‘Alberta Waltz’ sings a not-so-high but really lonesome sound. That lovely pedal steel whines in the slow sway of the sadly stepped tune. Ah, and ‘Let’s Give This Bottle A Black Eye’ may quicken the pace, but it certainly doesn’t lessen the lonely load. The pedal steel and barrelhouse piano dance with any Sweetheart of any Rodeo. Then, ‘Walkin’’ slows the heartbeat and has sympathetic backing vocals that are worthy of the all-knowing Greek chorus, who for some strange reason, find themselves smack dab in the middle of a country twanged tune. No jumper cables are required: Age old tradition simply bumps to life.
‘Last Dance’ is an acoustic song with a glorious and profound melody.
It ends with really wonderful bluesy rock. ‘Red Hot Poker’ rocks and rolls with tough electricity and a cautionary sermon. Then it pulses with “a burning desire” as the guitar darts and dances and an organ fans the smoky fires. This is the final tug at the end of the line. Full stop. Dead stop. A bit of a burnt echo. So there!
If Wishes Were Horses is the real deal Canadian river that flows with the beauty of folky blues—with a country western chaser. It shakes hands with tradition, and then it plays a really decent poker hand, with weathered cards that curse sometimes, love some other times, play the blues in between too many heartaches, and just manage, somehow, to sing a bruised and very human song.
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Artist’s website: https://www.mattpatershuk.com/
‘The Velvet Bulldozer’ – official video: