Every American knows Nashville, Tennesse has a reputation for being a music city and therefore amongst the music hopefuls are out-of-towners with briefcases stuffed with guitars and the clothes on their backs, ready to get a slice of the action. This impulsive decision has worked for many recents acts in the country rock scene, to name a few: Hunter Hayes (born in Louisana), Kip Moore (born in Georgia) and Martina McBride (born in Kansas), so there is no reason why it shouldn’t work for promising duo Striking Matches.
With fire in their belly and an erudite musical background, Sarah Zimmerman (born in Phildelphia) and Justin Davis (born in Atlanta) have been touring and drinking whisky with the aforementioned sucessors in Nashville over the past few years and it’s given their debut album a mature and confident sound. It’s not perfect lyrically and it can be less entertaining and memorable in its slower moments (especially the second chapter) but their personality is just beginning to form and it’s starting to shine on energetic patches.
Although they met randomly at Belmont University, what is most striking is their chemistry and this is the formation of their spark. Although from a different genre than country rock, the platonic connection between Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo in the Danish alternative rock band The Raveonettes is a good comparison. Neither member is the lead and their purpose is to help harmonize and compliment each other’s part. They both have their own moment to sing and hum but ultimately it’s a shared experience that can be described as intense musical relationship.
The music video for “Hanging On A Lie” shows a competitive edge to their guitar playing – especially in the bridge – as Zimmerman and Davis stare at each other and appear to be taking part in a rock god contest. It’s a neat touch that could have been explored more in the album. Fog surrounds the pair, Davis dresses formally like Nick Cave and John Hiatt and Zimmerman shows facial expressions that shows her passion. Album opener “Trouble Is What Trouble Does” has a welcomed Hank Williams Jr. flavour to the jolly acoustic strumming and perfectly measured synchronized harmonics, but suffers from predictable idioms, which even though are associated with the musical style, could easily be avoided.
The short teasing length of the double-guitar jamming section would be more frustrating if it wasn’t for brilliant improvisation on the follow-up track “Make A Liar Out of Me“. Striking Matches are a band that probably work much better as a live set-up in a social honky-tonk environment than inside the headphones at home. The exciting and eccentric shred guitar combined with the start-stopping drums are evidence of this and seem more incredible because the track evolves from a steady slick blues tempo a kin to their self-confessed inspiration John Mayer. It also notably saves the track from its early anti-climax choruses.
Vocally, it’s not Patsy Cline (Zimmerman’s biggest inspiration) or Tammy Wynette but it’s tantalizingly difficult not to compare Sarah Zimmerman’s voice to Dolly Parton, as much as it sounds like a stereotypical comment. Even though the attitude, personality, song lyrics, image and stage presence aren’t comparable, her voice has a similar accent and bold delivery to Parton. It’s a complimentary observation considering Parton always sounded like she had stories to tell.
Whilst Parton famously duetted with Kenny Rogers, Zimmerman’s partner Justin Davis is completely different. Despite it being country rock in the country capital, his voice is so mild in Southern twang and anti-Orbison, that he could easily be singing in a pop genre. With similarities to Jason Mraz, his contribution could possibly give Striking Matches a wider audience in the same way the aforementioned Patsy Cline achieved in her time.
Every Country rock act has had their favourite themes: Dierks Bentley sang about drinking, Martina McBride wrote about domestic violence and Kip Moore reminiscences about trucks and beer. Striking Matches have an obession with the truth and how it impact relationships and often write the songs in agender manner speaking in a confrontational stance towards the listener.
On “Never Gonna Love Again“, they sing about one aspect of truth: cheating, “I know you were never alone, like a knife in my chest, you could have left my soul to rest“, whilst the quotes: “what are you hiding? where you running? You’ve been up to something” from “Hanging On A Lie” and “prove me wrong if you want me to believe“, from the fire-metaphor-filled “Make A Liar Out of Me” are also good examples of this.
The second half of the album is not as compelling and can be a little too middle-of-the-road in its safety (hence them being playlisted on BBC Radio 2) but the Americana ballad “God And You” is intriguing because it displays truth from a religious perspective that is stereotypically Nashville. Remembering that neither of the duo are actually born here shows how much they have soaked up the culture. Guitar vibratos travel spaciously around the steady atmosphere as Zimmer and Davis harmonically croon about security and monogamy: “There is a soft spot in my heart that I don’t let many people go“.
With all the credentials in the right place – including even having songs featured in a TV show called Nashville – they should be the next The Civil Wars but they have to learn to trust their own abilities and distinct personality first and then their confidence will grow beyond that scene. Striking Matches visit The Union Chapel in London on the 5th May and other UK dates can be found on their Facebook page. Nothing But The Silence is out now via I.R.S Nashville Records, purchase it here.
Words by Matt Hobbs