Singer-songwriter Matt Woods reinvents himself with a ‘Manifesto’
By Steve Wildsmith (firstname.lastname@example.org)
There’s something comforting about having Matt Woods in East Tennessee.
He’s the kind of guy who’s so often taken for granted, willing to play bars and clubs when other bands have cancelled or backed out, many times when the crowd is sparse and those who do show up are more interested in talking to friends or hitting on members of the opposite sex.
He does it without complaint, always quick with a smile and a nod even if he’s in mid-song, and between sets he’ll pull up a chair and chat a bit before getting back on stage and doing it all over again. He does it because it’s what he loves, and because he knows that once in a while, someone actually hears the stories he’s telling through song.
“I try to flesh out my songs and make them real,” Woods told The Daily Times this week. “With the story-songs, I want them to be something people can relate to even if they’re not living or sharing that particular experience. I want them to be able to connect with that.”
With a new album scheduled for a release celebration this weekend, Woods has capitalized on that desire with grace and success. “The Matt Woods Manifesto,” which he’ll be selling at Saturday night’s show at Patrick Sullivan’s Saloon in Knoxville’s Old City, is a fully realized vision he road-tested a few years back with the acoustic album “Broken Strings and Beer Specials.” That album featured Woods and an acoustic guitar; on “Manifesto,” he’s assembled a hit squad of local players who color inside the lines of his lyrics and bring to life the characters and stories he draws so vividly.
He’s been a fixture in the local music scene for more than a decade, first in the Southern pop-rock outfit Magpie Suite and, starting in 2003, in the band Plan A, which would become Matt Woods’ Plan A for its final release, “Caught Up in the Fray.” He founded the band with Grant Houser, an old friend with whom he’d musically reconnect as Plan A started to unravel a few years ago. It wasn’t a cantankerous parting of ways; it had just run its course, Woods said.
“I was trying to stay on the road a lot, so that made for a revolving door when it came to other dudes in the band,” he said. “People have responsibilities and stuff, which made it hard to go out on the road all the time, so between going out on runs with the band, I started going out on my own. And at the same time, I started writing music that was taking a different direction from what Plan A was doing.
“It was going more down this path of country and Americana than Plan A ever was, and pretty soon, I found myself doing a project I wasn’t even writing music for, so I decided to call it quits. This album, it’s a statement of who I am and what I’m doing these days.”
After Plan A’s demise, he sat down with Houser and poured over the songs he’d collected over the years. The two brainstormed about which local musicians they wanted to invite into the recording process; it’s a testament to the respect other artists have for Woods that every one of them said yes: Trisha Gene Brady of The Black Lillies; multi-instrumentalist Greg Horne; pedal steel ace Brock Henderson; and guitarist/songwriter Tim Lee, just to name a few. With some players Woods has befriended during his time on the road — members of Alabama-based band The Backrow Baptists and Larry Fulford, former drummer for Florida-based band Truckstop Coffee — the album came to life.
It’s a brawler of a record, akin to that good-natured drunk in every Southern roadhouse who’s boisterous and bawdy but quick to smash a bottle over an opponent’s head if provoked. From the foot-stomping good-time vibe of “Friday Night” to the lift-your-glass-and-sing-along weeper “Ghosts of the Gospel,” Woods cuts a striking figure as a songwriter and a storyteller. With any luck, “Manifesto” will mark him as one of the region’s most talented, a distinction he already holds in the eyes of his peers, even if local music fans are used to him as that guy on stage while they drink more beer and don’t pay the attention that these songs so rightly deserve.
“I’m such a big fan of this music scene and the songwriters in it, and I would hope some of those guys appreciate what I do as well,” he said. “As far as my music goes, I just try to write what comes to me. It’s honest music. If I can accomplish writing a tune that’s honest and not contrived, I’ll put it out there, and hopefully my co-horts and local friends who are songwriters will appreciate it.”