CD review: IN SHADOW AND LIGHT (2019)
By: Dan Brisebois
The latest album from Matt Blais is arguably the Calgary native’s most mature offering to date. With IN SHADOW AND LIGHT, the roots rocker goes deep with a collection of tracks that make up one of 2019’s strongest independent albums.
He’s grown as a songwriter, an artist, and all-round performer, and this is an all-round solid effort from one of Alberta’s most promising talents, and he’s won Male Artist and Singer/Songwriter of the Year at the Calgary Music Awards.
This is his third offering, and over the last few years he’s worked with the likes of Sam Roberts and played nearly a thousand shows, including opening for Blue Rodeo, The Trews, Monster Truck, and The Strumbellas.
Blais surrounded himself with a hard working studio team that includes Brian Moncarz (Our Lady Peace Trews, engineered by Juno Award winner Josh Gwilliam (Road Hammers, George Canyon, among others), and musicians whose credits include Jann Arden and Sheepdogs.
It’s the drive behind IN SHADOW AND LIGHT that makes it shine. If a song seems to have taken a more jaded edge than his previous work, it comes with growth from seeing things in the industry. He knows he has to work harder than ever in the studio to stand out from a myriad of other talented artists looking for the spotlight.
This album is solid from front to back and full of bright spots, highlighting his growth as both a songwriter and performer. The opening track “Everything Connected” muses on technology’s role on society, while showcasing some slick harmonica behind a solid rock track. Stands to reason – he’s a rocker who dug Dylan’s harmonica and penchant for storytelling.
The vocals are powerful, and the vibes are unmistakeable in tracks like the fuzz guitar infused “If It’s Love That You Need,” and “Fool’s Gold” shows the rougher-edged side of his songwriting – with honesty in the lyrics and the layered rhythms make it stand out as the cream of the indie scene.
His influences are many – a twang and grunge at the same time in “Give A Little More,” while “Shotgun Kiss” is an all-out blues-edged rocker with attitude. “Set Me Free” and “The Devil Wins Again” cry out with bridled anguish, but also hint at a glimmer of hope in sometimes darker times.
IN SHADOW AND LIGHT is full of anthems accessible to the common person, grinding through daily life. It encapsulates the passion of the blues and the tales of folk, performed by an intense rocker. This is roots rock at its core.