Ol’ Boy is M. Witte’s ten song solo debut and is a fitting title for a record that is stripped down to its core and shows every bit of its soul. To label it a folk or an Americana album would be reductive. At times it can certainly fit into both of those boxes but, because of Witte’s impressive fingerpicking style and lyrics that tell stories of deeply flawed characters with a gallows humor that he’s become known for in his 20 plus year career, it’s so much more than can summed up within a one word genre. Perhaps it’s fitting that the first single from the album, Back From the Dead, tells the tale of returning home after being gone for so long. A stripped down solo record is, afterall, a homecoming of sorts for Witte.
“When I first started out it was me playing solo on an acoustic guitar. Then when I got to New Brunswick (New Jersey) in 1999 I started playing with a few different bands and one of them ended up getting signed to a major label. The band kept growing and growing and at one point there were nine members. That’s a lot of different personalities to try to mesh, especially while out on tour.”
Throughout the 2000s, Witte fronted the New Blood Revival who, after several successful releases on independent labels, signed to Atlantic Records and recorded their major label debut with producer David Kahne (Fishbone, Sublime, Paul McCartney). In those days record labels had money to burn but had little in the way of patience to build the fire of a growing artist the right way and they dropped bands just as fast as they signed them. Disillusioned with the way the major label music machine worked, Witte began his journey of stripping things away and getting back to the purity that drew him to music in the first place. He formed the three-piece Chainsaw Trio who released one eponymous album and toured relentlessly. Next he cut it down to two and spent his time as one half of the foot stompin’ psychobilly duo, Coach N’ Commando, who are known for their impassioned and improvisational live shows. Now, he’s back to where he began playing music in its purest form with an acoustic guitar and a lifetime of gathered tales to tell, some true and some tall.
“Matt Witte has told truths, tales and tall tales for 20 years along a trail of broken hearts and dreams, but in such a charming, witty, well-rooted way that the effect somehow is much more fascinating than disturbing. Witte’s richly developed and achingly vulnerable characters are like anti-heroes whom you can’t help but love even though they often can be despicable. His latest solo effort, Ol’ Boy, brims with great bad guys right from the get-go with the circus-sounding opening track, Old Brains, a painful but soulful look at a couple failing to grow old gracefully or with each other’s love intact,” says Bob Makin of New Jersey Stage Magazine.
The lo-fi sound of Ol’ Boy is perfectly suited to its songs that carry weight and an honesty that affix them to the listener. The recordings' warmth makes you feel as if you are in the room with Witte watching his fingers maneuver around the guitar in ways that you cannot believe. The album’s closer, the harmonica-driven Angel Plays Dirty, ends with the line “Will it all fall apart on me in the end?” With a solo debut, after 20 years of playing with bands, as strong as Ol’ Boy, it’s clear that this is just the beginning and Witte is a long way off from having to face an answer to that question.