Album Review: Matt Castillo – “How The River Flows” – Take A Tour Through 90’s Infused South Texas Country

Matt Castillo Album Review How The River Flows

Matt Castillo is an Austin, Texas based artist who produced 2 studio albums with his band “Matt & The Herdsman”. These albums, along with a strong commitment to live performance, have established Castillo as a popular draw in the clubs and bars across the state.

For many artists, Covid measures put a brake on plans to release new material. For Castillo, it a provided an opportunity to take the time to perfect “How The River Flows” – his first album deliberately intended for a national (and international) audience.

“After I released my last project ‘Still Sane,’ it was a goal for me to really take my time writing songs and make a country record, “ says Castillo. “The type of songs that I grew up on and loved listening to. After spending two and a half years writing/co-writing for my new project, I knew deep down that I wrote and co-wrote the songs I’ve been wanting, I found my voice as an artist, and I was able to make each song unique on its own. ‘How The River Flows’ captured everything I’ve been looking for and more in an album.”

Castillo wrote or co-wrote 9 of the 10 songs on the album, engaging with a number of established Nashville songwriters in the process. Wanting to capture that essence from his youth, Castillo hooked up with talents from that period, such as Tommy Conners (“The Last Ten Years (Superman)” by Kenny Rogers; “Last Of A Dying Breed” by Neil McCoy), Byron Hill (“Fool Hearted Memory” by George Strait; “Nothin’ On But The Radio” by Gary Allan), Karen Staley (“The Keeper of the Stars” for Tracy Byrd, and “Take Me as I Am” and “Let’s Go to Vegas” for Faith Hill), and Don Rollins (“Five O’Clock Somewhere” by Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffet).

Veteran Nashville producer Roger Brown took on the duties in the studio, as well as bringing his own songwriting experience to the album. Brown has written for such luminaries as Tammy Wynette, Tanya Tucker, George Strait, Randy Travis, Kenny Chesney… (it’s a long list). If you hanker for not just a 90’s country sound (which many of today’s albums look to provide as a facsimilie) but the whole sensibility of the music from that era, this album delivers aplenty.

From someone raised in Edinburg, a city on the Mexican border, there’s also a recognisable vein of south Texas latin influence running throughout this squarely county album. One element you’ll hear that’s become less common in modern mainstream releases is the use of the accordion. Sometimes it’s barely noticeable background, in other places you’ll hear accordion up front where you’ve come to expect a lead guitar solo. On the opening to the album’s title track you’ll almost think you’re in Paris by the River Seine. Then the song starts in earnest and plants you firmly by the Rio Grande. It’s a skilful use of such a distinctive instrument.

Album opener “Say It” is an irresistible toe-tapper of a song, with an insistent bass line and an immediate ear worm of a chorus. Apparently Castillo was initially uncertain about recording the song, but he’s no doubt grateful that producer and collaborator Roger Brown convinced him to give it a try. It’s exactly what an album opener should be – it’s the bait on the hook, the display in the store window. “Say It” will pull you in to look around the rest of the album, and you won’t be disappointed.

The only song Castillo didn’t write on the album is the breakup ballad “Leaving Since You Got Here”, penned by Karen Staley who has co-write credits elsewhere across the set. It’s a hard, bitter breakup too, as heard on a barbed chorus with such lines as, “You’ve been leaving since you got here; No, you never planned to stay; Your intentions were to use me for a while, and be on your way… It’s just been a long goodbye”. Castillo projects the hurt with a cracked vocal reminiscent of, say, Gary Allan – another nod to the era the heart of this album draws from.

How The River Flows” is an accomplished album, and a fine showcase to introduce Matt Castillo to a wider audience. Will it be the statement piece to give him the breakthrough to follow in the path of recent Texas graduates like Cody Johnson and Parker McCollum? Well, time will tell just how that particular river will flow.

What I can say is that it is definitely worth taking a tour through Castillo’s neo-traditional country. It’s an album that gets better with every play, with new highlights appearing along the journey. Some will gravitate to the more radio friendly tracks like “Say It”, “Cause He’s A Cowboy” and “Neon Red Neon Blue”. Others will be drawn by the bar room sounds of “Leaving Brownsville Tonight” or the outlaw country of “Evil Kind Of Woman”. That breadth of content alone should ensure “How The River Flows” gets the exposure its craft and care deserves.

How The River Flows” is available now at all the usual streaming and download outlets

Matt Castillo – How The River Flows – Track Listing

1. Say It – 3:05 (Matt Castillo, Roger Brown, Tommy Conners, Don Rollins)
2. Neon Red Neon Blue – 3:02 (Matt Castillo, Kris Bergsnes)
3. Leaving Brownsville Tonight – 3:02 (Matt Castillo, Roger Brown, Tommy Conners)
4. How The River Flows – 4:38 (Matt Castillo, Luke Reed)
5. Cause He’s A Cowboy – 3:18 (Matt Castillo, Karen Staley)
6. No Easy Way To You – 3:07 (Matt Castillo, Roger Brown, Byron Hill)
7. The Man I’ll Never Be – 3:22 (Matt Castillo, Roger Brown, Tommy Conners, Don Rollins)
8. Not Just Another Song – 3:28 (Matt Castillo, Roger Brown, Steve Leslie)
9. Leaving Since You Got Here – 4:01 (Karen Staley)
10. Evil Kind Of Woman – 3:06 (Matt Castillo, Roger Brown)

Photos – 613 Media

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