As someone who passed 50 longer ago than I care to admit, acts like the Matlen Starsley Band (MSB) are an inspiration for me. Unlike a lot of musicians and bands of their vintage who are either resting on their laurels or touring with legacy shows, MSB was formed as a brand new project with the sole aim of writing, recording and releasing an album of entirely original music. As they explain on their website: “We just wanted to get a group of accomplished players together to create some great music and recapture some of the energy and passion that got us into the music business in the first place. No musical boundaries, We are letting the songs take us wherever they may lead and just letting the music speak for itself.” Last July (2019) they dropped their appropriately-titled first album Rollin’ Again, which I’m pleased to introduce to my readers.
Based in Vancouver, Canada, MSB consists of Dennis “Dollar” Matechuk (lead vocals), Kevin “Bubba” Star (guitar & vocals), Don Lennox (bass & vocals), Jim Wesley (drums) and Darryl Hebert (keyboards, guitar, accordion & vocals). All seasoned musicians, they’re either former or current members of the Bryan Adams Band, The Ray Roper Project, Bad Moon Riders, Touchdown, Fandango, and Bad Allen and the Muscle Cats. Collectively, they’ve played thousands of shows in venues ranging from intimate clubs to major festivals in front of 20,000 fans, and bring a wealth of experience in creating their lively and eclectic mix of country, blues, Southern rock and roots music. Their years of living and all its attendant facets of love, joy and pain are reflected in their honest and relatable lyrics too.
Curious that none of the band members are named ‘Matlen’ or ‘Starsley’, I asked them about the origin of their name. Not sure what to call their band, they eventually decided to take parts of each of the four founding members last names and fit them together: Matlen is from Matechuk and Lennox, and Starsley is from Star and Wesley, which I think is pretty damn clever. (Hebert joined the band later.)
Rollin’ Again kicks off with “Short Ride on a Long Haul“, a rousing song about a hookup while on the road that’s left the singer besotted by a woman’s charms, and wanting more: “When I woke up in the morning, you were gone. Now the radio’s playing a sad road song. It was a short ride on a long haul. Babe I wanna see you again. It was a blue moon on a red hot night. I’m in town, baby do it again.” Against a backdrop of driving rhythms and rolling guitars, Hebert’s spirited organ riffs are a highlight.
On “It Hasn’t Hit Me Yet“, the band delves into the blues, both musically and lyrically. The bluesy guitars are terrific, and I really like Matechuk’s clear, earnest vocals as he sings of his sadness and frustration over a love that’s slipped away, acknowledging that he’s partly to blame: “Now I ain’t ever been one to settle down. The truth is your good love couldn’t keep me ’round. But i’m here at your door, want you back, but you won’t love me no more.”
Keeping with a similar theme, the bittersweet “I Cried Today” speaks to that twinge of regret many of us have felt when seeing an old flame, wondering what could have been had things turned out differently: “I heard today you found someone who makes you happy. A good man, the true love that you’ve been searching for. I cried today. Were the tears for you, tears for me, or for the years that lie between what we had and could have been? I cried today. I got a good life, got a good love. You’re happy too, that should be enough. I’m still selfish in that way, so I cried today.” The guitars and organ work are sublime, and Matechuck’s vocals nicely convey the poignant emotions described in the lyrics. It’s a beautiful song, and one of my favorites on the album.
“A Life Worth Living” is another highlight on the album for me. Once again, the guitars and organ are great, and Lennox and Wesley do their part to keep the rhythm on a solid footing. “A Matter of Time” is a lively rockabilly tune about picking oneself up after a failed love affair, and getting back into the game: “I got what you need, if you give me half a chance / You got to come out swingin’, and learn to love again.” The wonderful honky tonk-style piano takes center stage here.
The band returns to the blues in a big way on “We Don’t Love No More“, a sorrowful song about a relationship that’s broken beyond repair. Bubba’s bluesy guitar work and Hebert’s mournful organ work are fantastic, making this my favorite track on the album. Matechuk’s heartfelt vocals beautifully express the abject sadness contained in the painful lyrics: “I got this feeling this time we’ve gone too far. All those years have worn us down. And all those things we held so close, are the things that hurt the most. Find the words that hurt and scar. Gonna burn this to the ground, cause you and I we don’t love no more.”
MSB seem to pay tribute to Tom Petty on the title track “Rollin’ Again“, with twangy guitar riffs and a melody influenced by the Southern Rock legend’s signature sound. The song is about moving on from a relationship that was doomed from the start: “I ain’t one for laying blame. I’ll leave that to you. Now you say you want something more, and that’s something I can’t give./ All the things that were keeping me down. I’m rollin’, rollin’ again.” “Trail Went Cold” is a bouncy Country tune, with twangy guitars and harmonica, while “Sweet Touch” has a harder rock’n’roll feel, with heavier guitars and more aggressive drums, though Hebert’s organ is prominent here too.
The guys close out the album with the wonderful kiss-off “Your Love Ain’t Special“. As always, they deliver the music goods, laying down some mighty tasty bluesy riffs and marvelous organ work. All in all, Rollin’ Again is a terrific album, and a fine debut effort by this talented collective of musicians. With songs ranging from Southern rock and blues to Country and rockabilly, there’s something for everyone to enjoy on this record.
To learn more about the Matlen Starsley Band, check out their Website