It feels strange to be writing that this is Striking Matches debut album. It feels like Sarah Zimmerman and Justin Davis have been around for years but the reality is that they are still a fledging duo.
The duo first came to my attention when their songs were featured on ABC TV show Nashville. Their song When The Right One Comes Along was performed by stars Clare Bowen and, close friend of the duo, Sam Palladio. The tenderness of this song was deeply resonant with a lot of the shows fans and had a great impact on their growing success.
Here in the UK we have seen them appear at two Country 2 Country festivals as well as headlining The Borderline in London last year. Famed for their energetic live show they have picked up a devoted fan base on both sides of the Atlantic. All this said Nothing But The Silence really has been one of the most hotly anticipated albums in some time.
The album kicks of with the toe tapping Trouble Is As Trouble Does. Straight away it introduces us to the pairs superb guitar playing with the fast picked acoustic guitars. There’s a real live feel to the song and this is no surprise as the band, and producer T Bone Burnett, were insistent that the record only feature the two guitars, bass and drums so not to lose what makes them so appealing. The pair trade verses on vocals and we get our first taste of just how well the two work together.
Make A Liar Out Of Me opens with a more bluesy guitar riff. Again the instrumental intro is key to the pair. Davis vocals have a soulful edge to them which helps set the tone for the song as it builds to the chorus. This is one of my favourite tracks on the album and I absolutely love the slide guitar solo at the end which is played expertly by Sarah Zimmerman.
Title track Nothing But The Silence slows the pace down a little and really brings out the harmonic vocals of the two. It’s sparse intro builds into a crescendo of a middle section. Throughout the song the pair sing in unison and it creates a beautiful harmony. It’s the perfect antidote to the upbeat and hard hitting opening to the album.
The first single from the album Hanging On A Lie is next and picks things back up again. With a mixture of mandolin and electric guitar it’s a song with real soul and a hint of funk. It’s easy to see by this point that Striking Matches are not just a country act. They have so many influences it’s impossible to tie them down to one genre which is a great thing. The song itself has a really catchy, sing-along chorus and it’s easy to see why it was chosen as a single.
Never Gonna Love Again is another track that opens with an instrumental intro, this time with the slide guitar cutting through. Sarah Zimmerman takes the lead on the vocals with Davis adding the backing harmonies. The great thing about this song, and many others on the album, is the rawness of the instruments. There’s no over producing going on here which is perhaps a let down of a lot of modern music – it was perhaps apparent in The Shires debut effort.
The first song I ever heard from Striking Matches, When The Right One Comes Along, is next and manages to pack a huge punch whilst being slow tempo and mellow. It’s easy to see why T Bone Burnett chose this song when he was musical director on the first season of Nashville. It was chosen to convey a moment of closeness and tenderness growing between two characters and in this version, even without pictures, this can be felt. Surely it’ll be a wedding song for many people in coming years…
What A Broken Heart Feels Like has a more poppy feel to it and this is welcome after the heart wrenching When The Right One Comes Along. The plodding bass line and jumping electric guitar along with the sing-along chorus make this a fun and catchy song.
In Miss Me More we have a rocky number, which is reminiscent of Hunter Hayes, with its lively mandolin in the background and smooth flowing vocals. It’s startling at this point in the record that we have seen so many different musical styles on show and dipped a toe into so many different genres. There’s country, folk, blues, soul, funk and more to enjoy.
Like Lovers is another tender and slow love song. The pair have a really professional and focused attitude when onstage but listening to the record you almost feel like they’re sharing a microphone and looking into each others eyes like Johnny and June. Lyrically it reminds of John Mayer’s Slow Dancing In A Burning Room with the idea of sharing some last memories before the impending end of a relationship.
Penultimate track Missing You Tonight is another superb foot tapper which is led by more electric guitar. Again the lack of over production saves this song from being killed as it so easily could have – it remains as punchy as any live version would. Once again we have an amazing guitar solo which is this time played by Justin Davis. It’s clear to see that two the are amazing musicians above all else.
The album ends on the reflective God And You which is a mellow and reflective end to the duos debut effort. In the lyrics Justin Davis bares his soul to the listener and sings about how God and a special someone have helped him learn about how to live. I can’t talk about this song without mentioning the sublime slide guitar solo from Sarah Zimmerman that gives me Goosebumps every time I listen to it. It almost feels like it ends the album in the perfect way with a beautifully written song with amazing musicianship which is just what these two are all about.
There were a lot of expectations with Striking Matches coming into this album. Fans who had seen them live raved about them and the cast of Nashville waxed lyrical about their talents. It almost feels like this was a defining moment for the duo, were they really worthy of the hype? Would they sink or swim? Well the answer is that they swam. They swam like Ian Thorpe in his prime riding a dolphin with rockets on it. As I mentioned earlier in the review it really is refreshing to find an act that offers so many different styles of music on one album and have refused to be pigeon-holed into a ‘country act’. Lets get one thing straight, there are country influences but Striking Matches are not just a country band.
Huge credit must go to the band for sticking to their guns on this album and doing things their way. Along with Zimmerman and Davis influence it can’t be forgotten that they had one of the best producers in the business working with them in the form of T Bone Burnett. He allowed them to keep things as real and live as possible on the record without over producing things and allowing the band to find themselves in the studio with dozens of other instruments and musicians.
It can be hard for some people to believe the hype around an act like this and not just write off the album before even listening to it but I would go so far as to beg you to give it a try. It’s an amazing record from a duo who are set for huge things.
1. Trouble Is as Trouble Does
2. Make a Liar Out of Me
3. Nothing But the Silence
4. Hanging on a Lie
5. Never Gonna Love Again
6. When the Right One Comes Along
7. What a Broken Heart Feels Like
8. Miss Me More
9. Like Lovers
10. Missing You Tonight
11. God and You
Make A Liar Out Of Me, Hanging On A Lie, When The Right One Comes Along, Missing You Tonight, God and You
Six Shooter Rating
10 out of 10