What was once an aching, drowsy fireside croon fest (2007’s Pride) has taken a blatant leap into hoedown territory on singer/guitarist Matthew Houck’s latest effort. Forsaking subtly Southern melancholy in favor of jangling, twanging hillbilly heartbreak, Here’s to Taking It Easy misplaces amplified country fever instead of channeling it.
To posture an album as if it were straight outta Nashville is tricky if, for starters, you’re living in New York and writing about the perils of a bi-coastal romance with a lady in Los Angeles. Built on lines like “If I’m talking to you, mister/Then you best be writing down what I say,” the opening track, “It’s Hard To Be Humble (When You’re from Alabama),” is so affected that it feels like a parody of Southern rollick. (By the way, Houck’s from Georgia.)
It’d be easy to write this album off as a one-time experiment gone awry if it weren’t for a couple of standout tracks that call on Phosphorescent’s earlier style. “Hej, Me I’m Light” is eerie and beautiful in the way Pride was, but given the tunes it keeps company, it’s a bittersweet trek back in time.