Review: Rich Mattson & The Northstars ‘Totem’ || CD Release Show Friday at The Turf Club
25 years ago, Rich Mattson quit his day job and committed to music full time. Since then, he’s recorded hundreds of bands at his Sparta Sound Studio in the Northwoods and, according to him, has “tried to release an album a year. Sometimes more than one.” Overall, his body of work, from his 90s output with the Glenrustles to his current work with The Northstars presents a perfect blend of Minnesota power pop, rambling alt-country, and Neil Young-inspired psychedelia. His current release (out on Friday, January 25th and featured at an album release show that night at the Turf Club in St Paul) is a stellar addition to his massive catalog. It’s at turns sweet and rocking and, in the tradition of Mattson’s production finesse, sounds superb.
“EZ Rider” starts with a familiar, swaggering groove and Mattson’s sense of humor – you can hear him intoning “all right, all right, all right” in his best Owen Wilson imitation before the vocals kick in.
The best songwriters, in my mind, have some real, detectable ratio of of soul and humor. “It’s All Minor to Me” captures the best of Mattson’s combination of cynicism, humor, and uplift:
“Looking back at my notes, here’s a little lesson I was told:
Be careful what you believe, there’s people hiding cards up their sleeves….
Everything you get, it ain’t exactly what you need…”
As usual, Gemaine Gemberling’s backing vocals and tasty acoustic guitar playing stand out – she subltly powers the songs along and adds winding, wilting harmonies to Mattson’s melodies (and she fronts the band on the lovely “Meant to Be.”) The rock-solid rhythm section of Kyle Westrick on bass and Keely Lane on drums hold down the songs through all their poppy twists and turns.
For Friday’s release show, opener Mike Nicolai (who has some of the best album titles of all time – “A Line Cook’s Guide to New Satanic Empires” and “Woody Allen Stunt Footage” stand out) will be backed by Twin Cities rock institution The Rank Strangers. The cover is $10 in advance, $12 at the door. Doors at 7, music starts at 8. Info/tickets HERE.
— Atom Robinson, @AtomRobinson