“This is a collection of songs for the over-thinkers, the people that get in their own heads.” That’s how Matthew McNeal describes the music on his debut album Compadre. The 22-year old singer-songwriter from Texas spent all of last year writing the music for his debut album. It’s a true sign of his dedication to music. Once he found the songs he wanted, he went into the studio for ten days to record it alongside two Grammy-award winning producers: McKenzie Smith and Joey McClellan. Smith has worked with the likes of St. Vincent, Sarah Jaffe and Midlake, while McClellan has worked with Israel Nash and The Fieros. So McNeal certainly found the right people to work with and make his debut album. He describes himself as an Americana artist with more singer-songwriter leanings than the traditional country arrangement. This could certainly be heard in Compadre.
The album starts with “Alonely,” a fast-paced song with heavy guitar licks. It’s about a music man always traveling the road and dealing with the struggles that come with this. I think it was wise to choose this as the opening song, as the instrumentation immediately catches the listeners’ attentions. McNeal deals with relationships and personal demons in “Imaginary Friend.” It’s a stripped back production with the combination of an acoustic guitar and light drum play. McNeal’s vocals are good on this song, but I wanted to hear a little more emotion from him. The stripped back approach is taken again on “A Losing Hand.” Just like “Alonely,” the protagonist of the song is a music man and he’s dealing with love problems, as is common with a music man. McNeal goes into his higher range vocally on this song and it was interesting to hear this side from him.
“Wash My Wounds” deals with heartbreak. The lyrics in this song are just okay, as I felt they could have went deeper. The instrumentation is pretty solid though, as it holds my attention throughout it. The piano plays in “Bigger Things To See,” a quiet song that let’s the lyrics drive the song. McNeal sings of a budding relationship looking to expand their horizons and see more of the world. It’s one of my favorites on the album, as McNeal’s voice is on-point and sells the emotions behind the song. The somber “Lost And Found” is next. McNeal sings of being lost as a person and not wanting to be found. He would rather drift aimlessly for a while, than get back on track. It paints the picture well of a depressed person simply trying to find their way on their own and I think a lot of listeners will be able to connect with this song.
“The Wind” is the type of song that will mean something different to each person who listens to it. What stood out to me on this song is the instrumentation, both good and bad things. The good is the piano play throughout this song. As I’ve said many times it’s an underrated instrument in country and Americana music. The bad is the claps just before the halfway point of the song. They’re completely unnecessary and hurt the song a little to me. You don’t put claps in a slower song like this. That being said claps work in the next song “Mother” because it’s a faster-paced song and fits better with the theme. Clapping is something I associate with happiness, which is why it’s not needed in more somber songs. Speaking of happy, “Mother” is full of it as McNeal sings of love and family.
“Just For Me” is another slower song on the album about love. This type of song seems to work best for McNeal, as well as quieter songs. It allows McNeal’s voice to shine the brightest and allows it to tell the story being told at hand. Compadre closes with the rowdy “Little Star of Texas.” McNeal sings about a special girl to him from Texas who’s rocking and catches his eye. The instrumentation is at it’s catchiest on this song and you can’t help but move your feet to it. It’s the perfect song to play live and get the crowd roaring. This rockabilly influenced honky tonk song is one of my favorites on the album and allows Compadre to go out with a bang.
For a debut album this is pretty solid in my book. On most debut albums an artist is simply trying to find themselves and the direction they want to go in. McNeal though already seems to know where he wants to head and the music he wants to make. I think he’s certainly going down the right path and has the right ideas. The instrumentation on this album is exciting and arranged well. However, there were a few questionable choices in this department. The lyrics could have been sharper and deeper on some of the songs too. There wasn’t one song on the album that really stood out and grabbed me. So on McNeal’s followup I hope there is more of an emotional connection established in the songs so the listeners can connect easier. Other than that though this is a very promising debut for Matthew McNeal and I think the potential is certainly there to do great things. His style reminds me of a cross between Ryan Bingham and Hozier. If you’re into these type of artists, I would recommend checking out Matthew McNeal and his debut album Compadre.