In doing my part to establish context for this review prior to diving into the actual music, I realize how stating that today’s featured artist hails from Texas could establish expectations of sound for their latest project. And indeed, though that in and of itself could split off into even more directions for this conversation, Matt Castillo’s sophomore effort is reminiscent of what you’d expect from, say, Aaron Watson, Cody Johnson or Jon Wolfe – something a bit more neotraditional and straightforward and polished in its approach, but also something that’s comforting and goes down smooth, all things considered.
Which is to say that, production-wise, you know what to expect with this subset of Texas-country music: a split between neotraditional country and more polished tones of the current era, as well as a strong acoustic flavor, with this album also leaning heavily on the ‘90-era country chord and melodic progressions reminiscent of, say, Mark Chesnutt or John Michael Montgomery. And if that sounds like I’m prepping up a criticism that this album lacks a unique flavor … well, in some ways, yes. But I’m also a sucker for this sound, and albums in this vein tend to go down well for me, especially when there’s a fair bit of Tex-Mex influence and accordion present to flesh things out and add more of that definitive personality to these songs – almost to the point of being the dominant element and instrument on many tracks, which is a nice touch.
However, if the question is whether it offers more than just that comfort listen … well, yes and no. On one hand, Castillo does possess the sort of poise and good sense in his songwriting I like to see, but he’s a bit flat as an overall presence, even if there is room to grow here. For one, he’s way more effective in his lower range than anything else, which is what makes the play of the hook on “Say It” a surprisingly fun time. And the weathered, personal reflection of the title track feels lived-in and comes across well, as does the gentler sway of that sneakily good little bass groove on “No Easy Way to You,” which is likely my favorite track here. But that also plays two-fold with the writing, in that, like with the sound, there’s a certain expectation to have with this album. For the most part, it’s generally straightforward and likable, and there are no real duds here outside of the pandering “Cause He’s a Cowboy,” though tracks reliant on more carefree swagger come across as clunky here, like “Evil Kind of Woman” or the slightly awkward flow and sluggish pace of “Leaving Since You Got Here.”
But otherwise, I would say the writing is smart enough to work for what it is, even if the themes are nothing groundbreaking in their own right and the details are fairly light and lacking in greater impact. And between the title track, the admittance that things won’t work out on “No Easy Way To You,” and the surprisingly well-realized love song in “The Man I’ll Never Be,” there are tracks that cut deeper and are better for it, and are balanced in more fun moments like “Say It.” So there’s potential, and I’d like to hear what a few more years of experience for Castillo could bring to the table.
- Favorite tracks: “No Easy Way To You,” “Say It,” “Where the River Flows,” “The Man I’ll Never Be”
- Least favorite track: “Evil Kind of Woman”
Stream the album.
One thought on “Album Review: Matt Castillo – ‘How the River Flows’”
This is another artist that I was not familiar with until reading this review, so I checked out the album and it’s solid. There are some songs I really liked and, as you noted, he shows good potential.
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