With “Muchacho,” Phosphorescent Shines Beyond Its Half-Life

Matt Houk, who plys his trade under the band name Phosphorescent, has long been a golden-throated marvel, but on the magnificent new Muchacho, he answers three questions that long have puzzled us.

Ever wonder how good Dylan’s late-phase greats would sound if sung by someone whose voice hadn’t been dragged four times across cooling magma?  We used to joke, Mrs. Tulip Frenzy and I, about how Dylan should call Jakob to do the honors.  But the moment we we heard the magnificent “Song For Zula,” we knew Matt Houk was the only one who would do Dylan justice.  You could imagine “Song for Zula” on anything from about Time Out Of Mind on; it’s that good.

And then there’s this question that long has lingered: when will someone record an album that you could segue to directly from the second side of Exile On Main Street, you know, something that combines pedal steel and Memphis horns, something warm and bright as “Loving Cup,” with also that hazy, lazy mystery? If you’ve ever asked that question, yep, Muchacho is for you.  On “The Quotidian Beasts” and other songs we can hear echoes of that notional state where it’s 1971 all over again, and Mick and Keith are in the basement with Nicky Hopkins upstairs in the living room, and Jim Price and Bobby Keys are down the hall in that haunted Southern France mansion, as Gram Parsons lies conked out on the couch.

Speaking of Gram Parsons, our third question has for years been would anyone capture his essence the way the young Ryan Adams did on Whiskeytown’s Strangers Almanac?  If that question’s ever crossed your mind, go get Muchacho.  Like at once, hombre.

In a way, Muchacho is two records.  There are the songs, like “Song for Zula,” that really are Houk recording by himself, with strings or other instruments added on later.  And then there are songs with that full band treatment used to such great effect on Here’s To Taking It Easy, and To Willy, his album of Willy Nelson covers.  And a killer band it is, Whiskeytown being a not unfair approximation.

Phosphorescent burns tantalizingly bright in the night, and so it is with Houk, whose glow we pray last’s beyond the half-life of the artist.

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