Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
There is something of a prologue in the newsprint back pages of the program that was handed out at the Fletcher Opera Theater, in Raleigh, North Carolina, in September, prior to Matthew E. White's performance of his album, "Big Inner," that's so striking and spot-on, that it must be partially quoted here. With her notes and the stage-setting for the production of "One Incantation Under God" - how White wanted the night delineated - Hometapes Records owner Sara Padgett Heathcott describes what's unmistakable in White's spiritual and soulful broodings. She writes, "The thing about 'Big Inner,' the thing about Matthew E. White and the group on stage tonight, is the space left open for you. It's the breath between words. The hillside tumble of the bass line. Your skin tingling when you hear the trombone hum or the cosmic stretch of the pedal steel. At the table of 'Big Inner,' there's an open seat for you: your memories, your worries, your red-faced reactions to notions of the body and the spirit - and the tropical place in your mind where those converge. Matt's voice is that warm wind, and the Spacebomb House Band, Horns, Strings, and Choir are the light rain that starts up, cooling you down and drenching you in something far beyond a simple seven-song record. I can hear a little thunder. See you on the other side of it." I almost want to stop there, just end this essay with that image, but I'll go on.
White's music is revelatory. When Heathcott writes in that image of a table being set with a place waiting for you, the thought only goes so far. It's a much longer table than she lets on. The one that White sets - and essentially builds because there's no other that could come anywhere near the length necessary - is one that covers a distance. There's room for you, for countless strangers, for the estranged, for the dead, for the living, for the near and the far, for friends and for enemies and they may as well bring their pets along as well because there will be plenty of room beneath the table and at all of those feet for scrap grabbing and chewing. This is a place for communion. It's a place of inclusiveness. It's where squabbles are quashed and it's where sparkles are found in all eyes. The streets are rivers here, and the rivers are streets. Everyone's a sinner and everyone's saved. The cold bodies can be warmed again. No one is a lost cause in White's world. It's where redemption is just sitting around, waiting to be goosed by those who need it the most. He seems to see things with these caring, weary eyes and it just spreads. He sings, "Darkness can't drive out darkness/Only love can do that, baby/Only love can do that," and as he does it, all of us sitting at this table can practically feel the darkness thinning already.
Matthew E. White Official Site