by James Christopher Monger
A gentle giant with an unassuming voice and a knack for distilling New Orleans R&B, Tropicália, and '70s soft rock into a sweet and smoky, Southern-style indie pop confection, Richmond, Virginia-based singer/songwriter and arranger Matthew E. White's Hometapes' debut, Big Inner, is as frustrating as it is cosmically transcendent. Part Allen Toussaint, part Chico Buarque, and more than a little bit of Harry Nilsson, White's musicality (he moonlights as the leader of avant-garde jazz band Fight the Big Bull) is impressive to say the least, and stand-out cuts like "Steady Pace" and the nearly-ten-minute "Brazos" suggest a real musical awakening. The soulful, sultry opener "One of These Days" serves as a great litmus test for what follows, casting a languid spell over the listener with its measured, neo-soul build and lush ornamentations. In fact, White's arrangements (his string parts are pure, Sail Away-era Randy Newman) are so good, that it's tempting to write off the fact that his deadpan, pitchy delivery nearly sucks the life out of them. That said, fans of Arthur Russell, Fred Neil, Lambchop, and even The Nationalmay be more forgiving, as White's gift for sonic world building is on display throughout Big Inner's 40-minute run time, and while he may sound like a Donny Hathaway-obsessed, Palace-era Will Oldham, or an even less-interested M. Ward, his old-school affectations never feel like shtick.