Matt Marka – Good-bye Gracious

Matt Marka
Good-bye Gracious

Someone once said, “The mediocre borrow; the great ones steal.” I don’t know if Matt Marka qualifies as a Great One, but he certainly has the stealing part down on “Skin Skeleton,” the song that kicks off his second solo release, Good-bye Gracious. Marka wails his pained lyric over loose, clanging percussion in a manner conspicuously similar to what can be heard on Elvis Costello’s recent effort, When I Was Cruel. In fact, Marka mimics almost exactly both the syncopated drums and the distorted, back-teeth-shattering wail on certain songs on Cruel, such as “Dissolve” and “15 Petals.” Marka’s treatment of “Skin Skeleton” certainly matches the pain of the words, but the song is so close to Elvis’s that it goes way beyond homage to outright thievery. Oh well, where would pop music be without good thieves?
The rest of the album is a quiet, thoughtful affair. Most of the songs are a tribute to Marka’s recently deceased father and grandfather. Marka delves into questions of life and afterlife with sensitivity and deftness. He articulates his grief in short, penetrating phrases, rather than with the wordiness common to many who fall into the singer-songwriter category. With that said, none of the songs, with their strummed acoustic guitars and subtle instrumentation, is quite as arresting as “Skin Skeleton.”
Musically, Marka shapeshifts, avoiding easy categorization within the alt-country, folk, or rock sounds that he flirts with throughout the record. His plays all the instruments except the drums, and his work is skillful, if a little bland at times. There are some very nice touches, like the quiet Vox organ on “Dance on Your Grave” and “I Come Home to You,” and the judicious use of vocal harmonies (Marka’s own voice, dubbed over) throughout the record. What is most arresting about the album, and strongest, is the immediacy and clarity of the vocals: “Oh son, oh son, I’m so afraid / No sight in my eyes / … / But I believe I will be saved.” The pain on the album is plainspoken, which is always more effective at communicating it than histrionics. The songs on Good-bye Gracious are sad, gentle, and well turned.