Ajay Mathur – Little Boat

Released in 2018 on Yakketeeyak Music


Review:

Right out of the gate Little Boat sounds like an homage to the country-tinged classic rock and Americana of the 1970’s. It is full of soaring choruses, bluesy riffs, slide guitars, polished production, and perfectionist Eagles-esque harmonies (especially on “Start Living Again”). Mathur’s lyrics contain all the introspection and reflection of country music, like he’s replaying past situations in life and relationships over again in his head, however without that country-twang I’m used to hearing in this style. Curiously this music feels so familiar yet unfamiliar at the same time.

The first atypical moment occurred during “Forget About Yesterday” with its intriguing juxtaposition of Indian tabla percussion against blues harmonica and Cajon accordion. It wouldn’t have been the first time a Western artist sprinkled Indian influences into his music, but after hearing a few more explorations into non-western modalities and instruments, such as the sitar and tambura on “Ordinary Memory” and oud  on “Who’s Sorry Now”, I did some investigating. It turns out the reverse of my original assumption was actually the case; Mathur was not only born and raised in India (now residing in Switzerland), but while he was there playing live music in the 70’s and 80’s he actually got to jam with Jimmy Page in the midst of Page’s own musical tourism. This perspective flip of an Easterner’s take on American music explained some of the uniqueness bubbling under the album’s seemingly familiar surface.

One of the highlights of the album is all the textural overdubs and layering in the arrangements, mostly done by Mathur himself (along with the production). The tracks feature meticulous layers of Mathur’s own playing on everything from acoustic, electric, and slide guitars to Mellotron and grand piano, plus playing from a wide variety of musicians on lap steel guitar, drums, bass, saxophone, tin whistle, and the Eastern instruments previously mentioned. A few songs even take jazzy detours, like the big band horns on “Grooving in Paris” or the great jazz guitar solo by multi-instrumentalist Christian Winiker on “There We Are”.

Overall this album is a solid take on the retro-rock and Americana of the Eagles, Tom Petty, and Led Zeppelin, infused with a variety of influences from Indian music to jazz that are never so overpowering as to detour the focus of the album (although personally I think I would have enjoyed much more of the Eastern influences woven into the album rather than them just being an occasional thing).

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