The act of musicians paying tribute to a favorite artist’s art for the purposes of expressing adulation and exposing some other idea or sound to fans is not a new concept, but it is a great and honored tradition that is happily carried out by adept craftspeople who know a thing or two about quality and wish to communicate their joy.
In the case of musicians paying their respect to the Beach Boys (and Jan and Dean and others that have blossomed under the California sun), it is a longstanding tradition that continues to this day. Witness XTC’s spot-on “Pale and Precious” as an example from years back, and point to the work of current pop artisans like Dave Caruso, who captures the Boys of Summer’s sound and spirit in the audio bottle known as “Champion,” and Dana Countryman, whose vocal arrangements evoke the kind of depth of construction favored by the Beach Boys’ central spirit, Brian Wilson. And also factor in the songs of The Dukes of Surf, Hawaii based and steeped in the same melodic tradition.
All of this adulation and expressing the joy of influence would mean nothing at all if artists didn’t infuse their loving tributes with a piece of their own hearts. In the case of Matt Tyson–singer, songwriter, artist and such a smart cookie–heart is the center of the attention he gives to what has come before. In his music, Matt starts with the central concept of the meeting of minds between melody and harmony. He constructs a framework within which he plants the spark that gives birth to the idea that grows the song and places the cherry–an explosion of sweet vocalizing–on top. That’s not easy to do; Matt pulls the whole deal off as if it were second nature to him. And it probably is.
The Philadelphia Inquirer has reported that, prior to making the album Goodbye Jumbo in a studio with better equipment than he was used to, World Party’s Karl Wallinger recorded “…a lot of Beatles and Beach Boys songs… His goal was to figure out exactly how those records were made.” In Matt’s case, he probably listened, greatly admired the Beach Boys sound and, knee deep in that euphoria, started sculpting songs that would celebrate his joy. The point is, I think, he figured it out.
Playing all of the instruments and singing all of the vocals himself about 99.9 percent of the time, Matt tucks his influences in his pocket and turns out song after song kissed by golden sunshine. Matt’s latest album, Summertime Girls, begins with a gorgeous Jan and Dean-inspired a cappella opening to “My Old Bel Air.” The harmony stack is deep; if the six seconds it takes to get through that a cappella bit were all the song had to offer, it would probably be enough to satisfy. But there is the song–a car song, no less, that is all about the love for the 1950s version of the hovercraft. “All these custom cars, yeah they look real nice/They sit around at shows for a trophy prize/But my ’57 Chevy is not for show/It’s old and worn but always ready to go,” Matt sings. The song is a tribute to an ideal that still resonates: The things that define us in our lives matter.
In another car song on Summertime Girls, Matt tells the story of the “Five Window Coupe.” Anchored by Brian Wilson influence, the singer takes listeners on a detailed tour of his ’34 Coupe. “Nothing can touch my Plymouth five window Coupe,” he sings over a decidedly considered, slowed down beat, laying on the harmonies as if they were the main ingredient in the icing slathered on top of a delicious, five-layer chocolate cake. These songs are about more than cars: Girls figure into the landscape, too. In the title song, Matt’s mix of joyous harmonies and Hal Blaine-styled drumming takes you to the summer soaked beach to check out the scenery.
The same attention to detail is paid to all manner of songs on all of Matt’s albums like 2007’s Keep an Eye On. “My Car, My Board and You” sums up the summer scene of the mind in beautiful ballad style, with Matt’s usual vocal and instrumental dexterity in tow. And let’s not forget the melodies–dreamy, three-dimensional, and true. “The Calm Song,” a co-write with Barry Thomson, who played all of the instruments, is nothing less than a perfect pocket symphony with surprising and satisfying changes. It is a musical marvel sporting swirling harmony constructs and room to breathe. The a cappella parts particularly shine and delight.
Now!, from 2008, begins with a lovely, upbeat, summer soaked love song to a girl named Marianne (“Marianne (Makes Everything Different)”) and continues with a wonderful Beach Boys-meets-Jan and Dean nod (“Fun When the Weekend Comes”). On 2010’s Malibu Jukebox, Matt celebrates the whole ball of wax that figures into his songs with the catchy, name-checking vibe of “The Ooh Wah Song.” 2009’s California Myth is another total melodic celebration, with great girl songs (the upbeat “Judy Knows Malibu,” and “My Kind of Girl,” percussion heavy with a layer of sleigh bells and a punctuating bass line that could have been waxed at Gold Star). Add to that a whole lot of spirit. Catch a wave, anybody?
It is rare to come across an artist whose vision is as true as that which fuels the songs that populate these albums. In Matt Tyson’s music, the art of homage, and of reinvention, is at the heart of all things. In our lives, adept craftspeople like Matt Tyson are important–vital, even, as they lift our spirits when they need lifting, which may well be more often than not these days. It is all about the art, and the state of the art is just fine.
[We’ve added 35 songs from five of Matt Tyson’s albums. All are now playing in rotation on Pure Pop Radio. The breakdown: “My Old Bel Air,” “Down by the Beach,” “Summertime Girls,” “Five Window Coupe,” “Aloha Wagon,” and “Only in My Dreams” (from Summertime Girls, 2014); “The Ooh Wah Song,” “Belief,” “Cars, Surfboard and Girls,” “You Shoulda Been Here Yesterday,” “Playin’ in the Sun,” and “That Kind of Girl” (from Malibu Jukebox, 2010); “I Just Can’t Reach the Beach,” “California Myth,” “Felicity,” “Land Lovin’ Beauty,” “Top Down,” “The Big Kahuna,” and “Judy Knows Malibu” (from California Myth, 2009); “Marianne (Makes Everything Different),” “Fun When the Weekend Comes,” “You Know What I Mean,” “Go Little Malibu,” “New Girl in the Neighborhood,” and “MCMXLV” (from Now!, 2008); “Keep an Eye On Gina,” “It Don’t Mean Much Now,” “My Car, My Board and You,” “Surf’s Up,” “Wish I Was the Sunshine,” “Ride With Me,” “The Calm Song,” “Tell the Teacher I’m Surfin’,” “Summertime,” and “Lucky in Love” (from Keep an Eye On, 2007)]
Matt Tyson’s CDs are available at CD Baby.