It has been five years since we last heard from one of the east coast’s most beloved artists, Matt Mays. His last release, Coyote, was a record that saw Mays experience some off the hardest times and greatest achievements in his career. The record won him his first Juno for Rock Recording of the Year in 2014, but also saw the tragic passing of Mays’ long-time friend, guitarist and original El Torpedo member, Jay Smith. Appropriately titled Once Upon A Hell Of A Time, the first tracks from Mays after such a challenging time in his career are a roller coaster that will leave a lump in your throat and restore your faith in humanity at the same time.
The album first gives us some emotional resilience with tracks like ‘Trust Life,’ ‘Sentimental Sins‘ and ‘Drive On’. Mays sings these songs from the core of his soul with the signature, passionate vocal tones he is known for. He touches bases with his roots and poetically reminds us all to live in the moment and roll with the punches life throws at you; a message that is just as fruitful to himself as it is for his audience.
The albums middle gets you moving with ‘Howl at the Night‘ and ‘NYC Girls‘. The two tracks have a playful nature with a dance-worthy shake and the big choruses that Mays has never failed to provide in his music. The momentum then effortlessly swings to a more intimate, acoustically-driven vibe with ‘Dark Promises‘, ‘Perfectly Wasted‘ and the albums longest composition ‘Drunken Angels,’ a track which showcases some unique sounds from Mays both musically and vocally using spoken word runs and buzzing, atmospheric guitars. This whole cross-section of the record also brings out the raw, rustic drum tracks that give the whole album a natural pop from start to finish.
The end of the album provides some great folk-rock chops with tracks like ‘Ola Volo,‘ ‘Station out of Range’ and ‘Never Say Never’. Much like his previous work, Mays never loses any energy as his album closes. He keeps hitting the audience with memorable lyrics, bass heavy rhythms that turn on a dime into sweet melodies and fast paced, foot tapping jams that captivate his audience.
Matt Mays shows that he is an icon in east coast music lore. This album was well worth the wait and is a masterpiece in channeling tough times into something beautiful. It is a true gem in Canadian music for 2017.