Success is most often achieved with a lot of hard work and North Carolina native Jason Matthews has achieved a fair amount of success in his career as one of the songwriters of songs like “Must Be Doing Something Right,” “Life Happened,” “Break Down Here” and most recently Luke Bryan’s “Country Man.” While he didn’t have to release an album of his own, it just seemed like a natural progression. Self-produced (with engineer Bart Busch) and released by the Valhalla Music Group, “Hicotine” is Jason Matthews’ debut national release. Listening to the album as a whole, you wouldn’t know that this record hasn’t come from a major label for the band and production are what we’ve come to expect from a Nashville release. As for the songs themselves, well it’s hard to believe that other artists haven’t recorded these before Jason (and he picked from his deep catalog to spotlight his favorite songs).
With a jovial bluesy shuffle, “People Like Me” (written with Jeremy Spillman and Clint Ingersoll) comes blasting out of the speakers and, as soon as Matthews voice comes out of the speakers, one thing is evident: Jason Matthews can really sing. No he can sing. “Make Sure You Get My Name Right” (Co-written with Lee Brice) and “Honky Tonk History” (written with Luke Bryan) continue to prove the point and they also keep the rockin’ party atmosphere going as Jason sings the kind of country-rock, good-time havin’ songs that has made Montgomery Gentry a superstar act. Yet, like Bobby Pinson, Matthews own talent is what ultimately sells these fun songs.
While The up-tempo songs will get your butt out of a chair and dancing, the ballads like “The Slightest Whisper Of You” (written with Jerry Salley) and first single “That’s What Mamas Do” showcase the softer, gentler side of the artist. “Slightest Whisper” has a sensual romantic vibe to it while “Mamas” tells a story of how mothers are so often willing to do anything and everything for their children. Fans of traditional, Don Schlitz-style ballads will enjoy “Plain Ol’ Pain.” Written with Kris Bergsnes and Jim McCormack, the song features classic fiddle solos, strong steel guitar backing and a whole traditional story about how we feel when a relationship ends.
While “Hicotine” could’ve been a song that devolved into hokey territory, Matthews has managed to use the song (which is self-written), and turn it into a fiddle-laced, rockin’ rave-up for all that he holds dear. It’s the theme of the album (rockin’ country) and also was born out of the title for the record. It’s not pc by any stretch and that’s but one more reason to like Jason Matthews. While these songs are all good, Jason has saved two of his best songs for the album closers. “The Education of a Wondering Man” is great story about a man who has never stayed in one place too long and he’s well aware of that fact. With a title like “The Rapture” (written with Melissa Pierce) you can probably guess what the song is about. It’s an emotional song that isn’t preachy but simply tells of being in ‘the morning after the rapture” and how the protagonist is regretful for not ‘having time for Jesus’ so that he could’ve gone to Heaven to be with her.
While it’s likely that Jason Matthews isn’t likely to score major hits as a performer of his own right, “Hicotine” is such a strong, enjoyable album that people really should take the time to give one of Nashville’s best songwriters (and singers) a chance. This is one record I am happy to have heard and whole-heartedly recommend.