If Wishes Were Horses by Matt Patershuk
“I cut my fingers on so many broken hearts” is compared to the desensitising effect of callouses. In that context, Patershuk sings that blues are bearable in their ever presence. We get blues in sound as well as topic. Blues Don’t Bother Me has some nice melodic vocal rises from a low register starting point.
Ernest Tubb Had Fuzzy Slippers must take the prize for most unusual title and opening line of the year. It gets stranger still; Tubb, wearing his slippers and dressing gown, heads to downtown Nashville with a gun. It’s based on a trust story. In 1954, the country singer, fired at – and missed – Jim Denny, who ran the Grand Ole Opry. The so laid-back it’s almost horizontal song meanders through a web of Nashville connections, laying out a morality play that has you siding with Tubb rather than the almost victim.
Harmonica segues seamlessly into the instrumental track, Horse 1 For Bravery and Good Fortune, which prowls like a Western soundtrack.
Patershuk’s version of Jerry Garcia’s Sugaree has soulful backing vocals and a jazz piano solo but a harsh message: “just don’t tell ’em that you know me.” The impression of a wise old con imparting survival wisdom to a “cool fool is reprised later on.
Circus has a surprisingly poetic description of carny life: “by the gasp of the crowd used to live brave and proud/risked our skin to pay our bills/started dancing in the big cat cage when I was only 17.” The narrator is nostalgic about the excitement of a bygone lifestyle and community. It has the observational details and pathos of a Springsteen classic: “fire in our bellies then/ice blood in our veins/three rings and one full heart/god, those were the days.”
Alberta Waltz is a mournful pedal steel ode to dancing which dances around regrets. After a short instrumental, we get the blues about guitar virtuoso Albert King who has to risk his hands daily to pay the bills.
Let’s Give This Bottle A Black Eye is a traditional style shuffle about a traditional theme: drinking away heartache.
The third of four horse themed instrumentals would be worthy of a Western or a Tim Burton film.
Bear Chase is a jaunty little tune about going on a bear hunt and sort of rooting for the bear. We never learn the bear’s fate but signs are good and we’re left hopeful. Not such a surprising topic for a musician living in rural Canada.
Walkin’ brings back that ol’ pedal steel, along with percussion that replicates an aimless walking beat. There’s an old timey harmony group to echo Patershuk’s heartbreak blues.
The final ‘horse’ coda is upon is; the final wish is fond remembrance. That’s what we get in Last Dance. As the slow narrative evolves we get a picture of a man recalling memories and trying to make new ones with a love who’s being lost to a degenerative brain disorder. “in case we don’t say goodbye because you’re gone next time I find you/I say goodbye each night we dance.”
There’s just time for one last rocky blues song: “caught between the devil and the deep blue sea/I can’t swim for a damn and he’s coming for me.” He preaches and strikes up the band like a firebrand, reminiscent of the Red Hot Poker the song describes.
If Wishes Were Horses shows Matt Patershuk to be a relatively young man with an old soul and serious talent. The album produced by Steve Dawson, is out now on Black Hen Music.