by Michael Popke
The name Matt Cash may only ring a bell with a small sampling of progressive-rock/metal fans, but the Southern California-based vocalist and guitarist has spent the past several years writing songs and singing for Henning Pauly’s complex Chain and Frameshift prog projects (one of which paired him with Dream Theater’s James Labrie and ex-Skid Row member Sebastian Bach). Cash also now holds the honor of being the first artist to help re-launch The Record Label — a company formed in 2004 by ProgRock Records honcho Shawn Gordon and rebranded this month.
ProgRock Records often receives “submissions of music that strictly speaking aren’t progressive, or sometimes some of our progressive artists like to branch out to new material,” according to The Record Label’s web site. That’s clearly the case with Cash, whose rousing modern country record, Western Country, originally was released by Tripoint Media Inc. in 2006. Additionally, The Record Label has an upcoming slate of albums planned for listeners with diverse tastes (including well-rounded prog fans — like me):
• An industrial-pop disc by Lizette von Panajot from the Swedish prog band Spektrum. Think Nine Inch Nails meets Alanis Morissette.
• The debut album from Edward Heppenstall (another Pauly crony) that is said to be an emotional slab of retro mainstream rock that is drawing comparisons to Richard Marx, Corey Hart and Night Ranger. Really.
• The fruits of a collaboration between Steve Morse (Kansas, Dixie Dregs and Deep Purple) and Sarah McLachlan-inspired, sweet-voiced singer Sarah Spencer, called Angelfire.
Despite Western Country’s title, it’s easy to the hear rock influences, as “Match” lights up by mashing banjo picking with power chords, and the celebratory, harmony-laced “Melody” easily crosses genre boundaries. But other songs, such as “Shotgun” and “Shine On,” suggest Cash may have been listening to honky-tonk tunes at the time he recorded this. Pauly co-wrote some of these 14 songs, and former Saga vocalist Michael Sadler provides backing vocals. The switcheroo from prog to country works, because when Cash sings, “I ain’t as country as I’d like to be,” you can actually believe the good ol’ boy. It’s a bold yet authentic statement for a progger — albeit one who in 2003 released Crash Down, a contemporary pop/rock record. Western Country is a breezy listen that was overlooked four years ago but deserves renewed attention. And it bodes well for The Record Label’s future.