Sounds of the worked and tired, blue collar and swollen hands over broken homes and poverty. American music reminiscent of the 1970’s country and blues bands with stories from the hard life sewn into the smooth and sometimes chaotic melodies. A raw lamenting howl driven by thunderous drums marching to the upright bass and soothed again by the moans and cries of a pedal steel. We like to call it Midwest Junk Soul.
Impromptu Musicals for the Skeptic is singer Matthew James’ story album about moving to Des Moines from his home of Detroit for a girl and leaving everything thing behind including music with his nationally touring string bands. The single “Goodbye” was written on that drive as heard in the lyrics. The song blends traditional Country, Honky-Tonk melodies and raspy vocals with modern madness creating a very particular sound.
Matthew James and The Rust Belt Union 12” vinyl Impromptu Musicals for the Skeptic released September 14th on Sump Pump Records.
The album features 10 songs ranging in styles from bluegrass, blues, country, gypsy, jazz swing, soul, and avant rock while blending together by their unique sound they call Midwest Junk Soul.
The album transitions from their first Live EP that was made after only 2 ½ months of being a band! A tour to Detroit and back to Des Moines nearly ended the band and the new album almost didn’t happen. Immediately after the tour a member was checked into a mental hospital and didn’t return, another went through a divorce disappearing back to LA, and they lost the van and rehearsal studio they rented in a local mall.
Determined to make the album, the band recorded it in three days with minimal overdubs. Pedal steel guitarist Nathan Emerson, known for his studio work around Iowa, remembers, “I did all my tracks in one session only taking a break to piss, it was insane.” It was also during this time the original guitarist made it known he was leaving back to LA and handover was made to the engineer Nick Maurer. As the band recorded quickly, they spent days mixing and adding auxiliary instruments, burning through nearly $300 of band money in the form of pizza, 7 bottles of Jamesons, and a ton of beer.
Rust Belt Union has been compared to Tom Waits, Lucero, and Chuck Regan but their intentions of creating a new sound is obvious as they explore a more experimental palette on each track.
It’s no surprise that IMFS opens with a bluegrass tune as Matthew James spent years in nationally touring string bands. The second song is the real introduction of Rust Belt Union’s sound, with driving acoustic that explodes an electric saliency. This is their self described “Midwest Junk Soul” consisting of acoustic upright bass and pedal steel. It reflects nearly every American genre but somehow tip toes around country. These songs are the blue highways few travel unless looking for a more scenic view and an eccentric encounter. As each song carries on a different stylistic approach whether being bluesy “Enthusiastic Apathetic”, the gypsy carnival of “Holidays”, jazz swing of “It’s the Kind of Place”, and a surprising Motown feel on “Tough” -every track is recognizably Rust Belt Union.
The album opens with a traditional sounding bluegrass tune, but then circles back around with a seemingly honky tonk number that gets turned upside down with an avant noise surprise closing the album and leaving one yearning for the live show. Though the band gets its name from the closing of factories, Matthew James and The Rust Belt Union is growing stronger as it unites more fans at each energetic show.
The common theme of his lyrics are poetic overcomings, desperation, despair, and a sense of pride for home and old friendships. Home being Detroit for Matthew James as he currently resides in Des Moines, Iowa and tours the Midwest or what others call the Rust Belt.
Impromptu Musicals for the Skeptic is singer Matthew James’ story album about moving to Des Moines from his home of Detroit for a girl and leaving everything thing behind including music with his nationally touring string bands. It’s obvious Matthew James is not willing to give in again as Rust Belt Union has survived road bumps and is ready to put out fires to make more art!