After nearly a decade of winning over local and out-of-town crowds as the lead singer of Fools & Horses, singer-songwriter Matt Hutchison suddenly became a solo act after the band broke up in October 2011.
Since then, he's played wherever they'll have him — colleges, coffeehouses, the Night Cat in Easton, Joe Squared in Station North, to name a few places — trying to rebuild the interest his previous band earned.
Consistent gigs are good, but it's difficult to gain listeners without releasing albums. So "Sell My Heart" is an 11-song album that works as a transitional record for old fans and an introduction to new ones. While Fools & Horses' final album, a self-titled effort from October 2010, portrayed Hutchison as the leader of a contemporary rock act capable of hitting the gas pedal, this solo effort recasts him as a singer-songwriter still in search of direction and purpose.
That isn't to say one version is better than the other, at least in a technical sense. In fact, "Sell My Heart" sounds crisper and more precisely played and produced than anything Fools & Horses did. The correct notes are sung, the mix is balanced and the sequencing is seamless.
So then why does this album leave such a minimal impression? Perhaps it's the aimlessness: Overall, Hutchison sounds like an unshaped artist more interested in imitating others than in presenting his own sound. Upbeat-but-banal opening track "Sweet Emotions I Feel Tonight" recalls Jason Mraz's carefree, peppy side. "How Do You Like Me Now?" finds Hutchison doing his best Chris Martin impression, singing falsetto over dreamy guitars and slow, steady drumming.
Imitation happens, and when it's this well-executed, it's bound to find an audience. The real issue here is the lyrics, which range from preposterous ("Girl Getting Gas" finds the narrator trying to creepily woo a stranger at the pump) to mundane ("And all my friends who know me well / Say I'm an old-timer in a young man's shoes" from "Junkman Blues"). Even when he injects Baltimore into the scene — "The sun has turned to showers over Charm City towers," he sings on "The Lights Will Go Down" — Hutchison falls back on broad strokes that fail to register.
The album's high point comes on "Knoxville City (Lazarus)," a pleasant song anchored by fingerpicking on an acoustic guitar. On first listen, it sounds like a Simon and Garfunkel cover without the keen observations, which illustrates the disparity between Hutchison's abilities as a musician and a songwriter. When he sings, "I am no faker / Looked good on paper," in the chorus, it rings true, for better or worse.
"Sell My Heart to the Junkman"
Rating: ✭1/2 (out of 4)Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun