Singer-songwriter Matt Durfee’s debut CD Little World has been a very long-time coming. A former winner of Metroland’s Best Male Songwriter honor and half of the acoustic duo Palatypus (with M.R. Poulopoulos), Durfee is one of the busiest live performers in the region but a proper studio record of this talent has been conspicuously absent.
He’ll be the first to tell you why. “I’m way more used to picking apart everything I’ve recorded previously and pretty much criticizing the quality or performance of those old demos until they become un-listenable to me.” Over the course of two and a half years, Durfee finally found a recipe that worked for him, enlisting the help of Ryan Slowey to record and mix the album at his Empty House Studios, with help from Ian White (Bear Grass) and Mitch Masterson of SwordPaw HQ, vocalist Erin Harkes, keyboardist Sarah Clark (Charmboy), bassist August Sagehorn and drummer Tommy Krebs (Alta Mira), slide guitarist John Rice and harmonica player Ryan Dunham. The end result has rendered the album’s title a bit of a misnomer.
The inertia he felt in approaching such a project might be unconsciously vocalized on opening track “Drowsy Tigers in Straw Twine.” “In my life, I’m equally divided between what I have and what I want,” he sings, a truth we likely all face without feeling the need to put the sentiment to wax. It’s hardly the only gem of wisdom to bubble up on these nine tracks of dense, literate folk rock. Repeat listens are mandatory to absorb meaning in some cases. Not so for Durfee’s melodic sensibilities though. “Cold Comfort” arrives with the power of an indie-pop mega hit; you’ll swear you’ve heard the hook before even upon first listen. If you’re reading this and have the means, put this track in a movie or TV show.
In other places, like “Kid Gloves” and the title track, involved compositions suggest an acoustic prog capacity that may rear its head better live. Still, underneath the electric guitars, keyboard and sleigh bells, Durfee’s acoustic guitar remains the anchor. His distinct upper-register voice has its work cut out for itself, given the lyrical terrain it must traverse. At its core is a blues sensibility and a glimmer of a southern accent, which, on ballads like “Broken String,” can recall crooners like Ray Lamontagne.
Little World is the work of a perfectionist (“Everyone Wants to Be Right” he insists at the album’s close) but the catch with this genre of music is to keep it from sounding too clean and calculated. Having fully realized the scope of this project while maintaining the imperfect human essence at the core of these tracks might be Durfee’s greatest triumph.