Powerful and melodic songs, outstanding acoustic guitar, warm vocals and tasteful production with backing drums, percussion, bass and organ.
Singer-songwriter Matthew Alexander is passionate about his new disc, Daredevil Angel. “It has taken me four decades to have the skill and confidence to make this record…this is the best work I have ever done in the studio”. His disc, due to be released shortly was produced by Charlotte, N.C. jazz legend, Fred Story, and contains fifteen original songs in a contemporary folk genre.
To be sure, four decades is a long time. But the New York native turned Charlottean has certainly had his share of musical adventures during his lifetime.
“Discovered” at a New York summer camp in 1966 by Tin Pan Alley songwriter, Lou Stallman (author of the Yankees theme song and the R & B standard “It’s Gonna Take a Miracle”), Alexander went on to perform the coffee house circuit in Boston, headline at the Nameless Coffeehouse in Cambridge, Massachussetts, and develop a friendship with Bonnie Raitt while attending Harvard University in the late sixties.
“At that time, Cambridge was a hot bed of folk music. During my freshman year, some friends came over to my dorm room and brought a singer from New York City. All I knew was that she had a big smile, wore long boots and sang with a group called the Simon Sisters. We spent an entire afternoon swapping songs. It wasn’t until years later when she had a big hit on the radio that someone told me that that singer was Carly Simon.”
Upon graduation from Harvard in 1971, Alexander moved back to New York City where he auditioned for another “Simon”, his idol Paul Simon, whose songwriting class he sat in on at NYU (Simon praised his finger picking). During this same time, Alexander opened for Billy Joel in Greenwich Village and fronted the folk-rock band Moonshine who opened for Bruce Springsteen on the Upper East Side for five nights in 1972.
“When Springsteen strapped on his electric guitar and started singing, we knew he was going to be huge. I have never seen anyone command the stage like he did with his E-Street Band. We went out to a bar after closing night and Springsteen ordered milk” Alexander recalls.
When Moonshine broke up after spurning a singles deal from Vanguard Records, Alexander spent three years in Los Angeles where his songs were published by Criterion Music, Warner Brothers Music and Four Star Music.
“I wanted to be where the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt and America were recording. It was exciting to be in the heart of the music business, make the rounds of publishing houses and drive down Sunset Boulevard past billboards of all the latest singers”.
During his time in L.A., Alexander was courted by Elektra Records, performed at the famed Troubador nightclub, hung out with Doors guitarist Robbie Krieger and had songs held by such well known artists as Andrew Gold. He also was a pianist for the L.A. comedy troupe, the Groundlings.
“The Groundlings was the launching pad for a lot of the Saturday Night Live comedians.
I played piano and made up songs on the spot with the cast members based on words shouted out by the audience” Alexander informed me.
Eventually, however, Alexander got discouraged by the fickleness of the music business and “packed it all in” to teach seventh grade at a school in Watts and eventually go to graduate school at the University of Michigan where he got his Ph.D. in Psychology in 1982.
“I remember the day I decided to go back to graduate school. I took the same song to two different publishers. The first one loved the verse but wanted me to change the chorus. The second loved the chorus but wanted me to change the verse. I knew at that time I had to get out”.
Relocating to Charlotte in 1984 to take a “day job” teaching resident physicians at Carolinas Medical Center and practicing clinical psychology, Alexander never forgot his passion for music. While in Charlotte, he started his own record company, Caravan Records, for whom he has recorded three albums: Wishing I Had Wings (1987), April Heart (1992), and American Boy (1999).
“My work as a psychologist and educator is extremely rewarding in its’ own right” says Alexander, “and occasionally provides inspiration for a song”. “Recently, I was making rounds in the hospital and talked with a patient with chronic pain. She wanted me to communicate to the resident physicians that all she wanted from them was one day without pain, just one day to walk around the block and feel the sun without the burden of her disease” Alexander told me. “I was very touched by her story and went home that night and started writing a song entitled One Day”.
One Day appears on Alexander’s new disc with accordion, bass and acoustic guitar accompaniment. It is a stand-out song. Daredevil Angel, in fact, showcases Alexander’s considerable gifts as a songwriter. His songs have the lyrical sophistication of his former instructor Paul Simon and the warmth of James Taylor, with whom he has often been compared. In addition to the aforementioned One Day, the disc contains the autobiographical song New York City Backwoods which references the suicide of Alexander’s oldest brother on the streets of New York, the Django Reinhart influenced title track Daredevil Angel, the eminently catchy America-influenced Joanna, the philosophical River City and the bouncy Chattanooga Boogie, the opening track.
With vocal and guitar tracks recorded live in the studio, Daredevil Angel has an intimate and accessible feel. Throughout the recording, Alexander’s acoustic rhythm and lead guitar work provide excitement and flair. Daredevil Angel holds up extremely well to repeated listens. The melodic songs are fleshed out by Fred Story’s tasteful keyboard, percussion and drum work. Daredevil Angel is truly the best work of Alexander’s musical career.
Four decades indeed. But this record is worth the wait!
You can find out more about Matthew Alexander and his new CD at his website www.alexandertunes.com . His disc is available at www.cdbaby.com/matthewalexander. You can also hear his song entitled Babies on an upcoming broadcast of the popular PBS children’s show Raggs Kids Club Band on WTVI and other PBS stations.