Matt Hannah’s second album Dreamland is a first rate follow up to his 2014 debut Let the Lonely Fade that signals clear development since that highly praised initial release. Dreamland is a ten song collection with the rare quality of thematic coherence – the central question Hannah is meditating about over these tracks is the nature of memory and consciousness. Perhaps this sounds like a heady theme for a collection of popular music, but Hannah proves himself adept to the task without ever sacrificing the musicality of his material or risking self-indulgent pretentiousness. He doesn’t settle for a strictly folk song approach on Dreamland. There’s a lot of acoustic guitar present in various molds, but Hannah’s unafraid to mix things up with rugged electric guitar and strong drumming. His top shelf collaborators help him realize his musical vision without ever overshadowing his songs and the virtuoso trips common on recordings like this, unfortunately, are mercifully missing from this album.
The title track begins the release with the sort of attentiveness and nuance that serves notice we are in good hands as listeners. Hannah coaxes the lyrics out in a near-whisper, underplaying his delivery, and it helps invoke a strong mood in conjunction with the accompanying instrumentation. He takes on a much harder-nosed musical stand with the second track “Broken Hearts & Broken Bones”, bringing in biting electric guitar, but the song’s core is still guided by his voice and acoustic guitar playing. The album’s third track “Dandelion” drops his audience back into familiar acoustic territory and it’s one of the album’s more delicately rendered tracks. Such adjectives shouldn’t confuse readers that these are willowy, crystalline outings – despite their obvious sensitivity, Hannah writes sturdy guitar driven songs that never come off as coy or too precious for their own good. Electric guitar returns on the song “Set Free” and it’s accompanied by some tasteful organ courtesy of Matt Patrick hovering just below the top line instruments and understated flourishes from Aaron Febbrini’s pedal steel guitar.
“The Night Is My Home” might have a slightly portentous title, but the song is far from that. It’s one of the album’s more sensitive cuts and doesn’t come by its emotions in a cheap, premeditated way. It also features one of Hannah’s best vocals on the album and he makes every word count. The atmospherics of “Something in the Air” aren’t quite dreamy; instead, the feeling is more haunted, barely coalescing, and the song retains just enough artful shape to make an impact on the audience. The sound, ultimately, is poetic and helps form a greater whole in tandem with Hannah’s words. “Gone” has a quasi-shuffle tempo that the band never over-emphasizes and the welcome influence of blues gives it an unexpectedly jagged edge that other songs lack on this release. Dreamland ends with a note perfect curtain entitled “Morning Song”. Taken as half of a pair with the album opener, “Morning Song” makes for a marvelously apt conclusion and the acoustic guitar strings together a delicate, highly melodic spell. Matt Hannah has followed up Let the Lonely Fade with a recording that both reaffirms the first album’s strengths and builds on them.
by Lydia Hillenburg