The Lineup

Matthew E. White

Richmond, Va.

The yet-unnamed seven-song debut LP by Richmond, Va., bandleader Matthew E. White will be released in August, via the Portland label Hometapes and White’s own production house, Spacebomb Records. Matthew White is certainly a friend of Hopscotch: As we were putting the finishing touches on the first festival in 2010, White was busy finalizing the arrangements for a collaboration the next week with Hopscotch alumni Megafaun and Sharon Van Etten (and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon) in Durham. Last year, he played Hopscotch with his wild and rangy jazz band Fight the Big Bull and offered some of the songs that became his debut during a daytime solo performance.

We first heard these songs in January, and for the first time tried to find a way to invest in a long-term artistic project that we could present in Raleigh during the second weekend of September: And so, on the opening night of Hopscotch 2012, White and about 40 musicians from Richmond will headline Fletcher Opera Theater as Matthew E. White: One Incantation Under God. Expect the best album I’ve heard all year to be played in its entirety, with radiant horns and shouting gospel choirs and dramatic strings capturing every row of seats.

Spiritualized-sized but Lambchop-inclusive, Matthew E. White’s songs cut between curvy roads of funk and soul, gospel and rock, blues and country. In Richmond, White and the friends with whom he went on to found Spacebomb wanted to start an old-school production house, where a singer would enter the studio with some songs that the house band would rearrange, rebuild and then broadcast to the world. White served as his model’s own guinea pig, putting his tunes through the stresses of collaboration and production on a massive scale. They survived and now transcend because they are, at last, the work of a writer who’s finally figured out not only what matters in his life, but how to convey it in his songs. These songs mix family matters (“Gone Away” is about a relative taken too soon) with faith questions (God is everywhere here, analyzed and extolled and interrogated), while issues of racism and bigotry and humanity (listen for the empathy of “Brazos”) with the more standard qualms of a young man looking for love (request “Will You Love Me” at your wedding).

These songs are a celebration of music and its possibilities, a vividly open reconfiguration of several American traditions that burns as something entirely its own. It’s the most ambitious production in Hopscotch’s young history, and the timing is perfect. —Grayson Currin