- Associated Press - Thursday, October 13, 2016

Matt Hires, “American Wilderness” (Rock Ridge Music)

Matt Hires wrestles with negativity - and has a knack for dark, cutting turns of phrase.

“In the wilderness,” he sings with serrated fury, “yeah, you’re bound to fall, when you can’t tell the difference between a chapel and a shopping mall.”

“American Wilderness” proves that Hires has much to say - and a rocking way of saying it. He’s grappling with demons against a passionate, adrenaline-fueled backdrop.

Hires lists Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Jason Isbell among his influences, and you can hear that in his work. The outlook is darker, though, and the singing more reminiscent of Michael Stipe. Some of the songs, especially “Holy War,” wouldn’t be out of place on any 1980s-era REM album.

“My Jesus, I love thee, I know thou art mine,” Hires sings. “But sometimes it sucks to have to love you in America.”

But if he sounds like Stipe, Hires enunciates more - perhaps because he wants to be heard taking on big questions. For much of the album, it’s not clear he’s winning.

Hires does close on a positive note. In perhaps his most candid moment, he announces in “Don’t Let Your Heart Grow Cold” that winter will turn to spring, then confesses: “But I always forget when I’m freezin’, when the days are shorter than the nights.”

His struggle to stay positive is a fascinating journey, engaging enough to leave you rooting for him all the way.

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