Article by: Bylle Breaux
Matt Mann and the Shine Runners are releasing a new album next month and it’s their finest yet. Lead singer/songwriter, Mann, moved from Los Angeles to Nashville just over two years ago and it’s proving to be the right choice. His budding friendship with new lead guitarist, Tyler Bryant (Tyler Bryant and The Shakedown), has pivoted Mann’s sound from Southern Rock to a new genre, one that embraces some vintage glam rock as well. While the band has always slightly leaned this way, helping them stand apart from other Southern Rock bands, now they come crashing the party with it.
‘Anytime but Now’ is a complete narrative that should be listened to as one big story before choosing favorites. Not doing so misses the point. It contains eleven songs that capture the kind of character we all know and love; the charming hustler who accidentally-on-purpose sabotages himself and gets everyone in trouble for nothing more than joie-de-vivre, but in the end, everyone is all right with sublime-while-loopy memories and the hustler proves to be deeper than he was letting on.
The title track opens the album and from Bryant’s first guitar riff, listeners know they’re dealing with unapologetic, throwback rock-n-roll. Mann embodies this time with his vocals while still making it modern. Reminiscent of songs like Sammy Hagar’s “I can’t drive 55,” this tune lets you know upfront that our lead character is ready to rebel, but he’s gonna do it more beguiling, leaving the hairspray and spandex in the past. The combination of Bryant’s sinuous guitar and the robust female background vocals bring tension to the song until everything speeds up, comes together and turns gospel-like for an almost spiritual ending.
Albums that are front-loaded with a big sound don’t always keep their swagger all the way through but this one does. “Bang Your Drum” puts a bit more southern into the album and we can now identify the Southern Rock influences. If the Shine Runners couldn’t convince you to get into the tour van with the album opener, our hustler now reminds you, in the most conclusive of ways, that life is short, so you have to just do your thing. Still not sure? Well, then he turns the tables on you with “Restitution” and reminds you that you’re just like him at your core and that he isn’t going to take you anywhere you don’t already want to go. This works to get you out of your head and now you get in the van.
“Young and Dumb” has you doing shots with drummer, Shane Mayo, even though you promised yourself if you went on this ride, you’d stay clear of the hard stuff. His nostalgic beats force you to surrender to something familiar but still intriguing. There’s a lot of playing around in this 80’s homage, including by Grammy-nominated producer, Johnny Black, who lays some interesting effects on Mann’s vocals, but nothing is indulgent. Then, the inevitable happens and you end up in New Orleans, where it all goes so wrong for our characters but so right for this album. “Big Easy Living” is the album’s peak song and can’t be broken down to describe in pieces because doing that is like eating the ingredients of gumbo separately. Everything on this song works so perfectly together that there is simply no room for analysis. It promises to put a smile on the faces of anyone who has ever visited the city who wraps herself around your soul. While the Shine Runners purposely keep themselves as visitors here, staying true to their own sound, the keys by Peter Levin (also with Amanda Shires’ band) are old school New Orleans, bringing the room together like Lebowski’s missing rug. This is the point in the trip where some of you probably end up in jail.
“I’m Going Down” is a Springsteen cover but instead of trying to improve on the Boss’ stamp in time, Mann keeps it light and respectful. When listened to in the context of the rest of the album, it seems like our lead is abandoning you for the night while he goes and falls in love, just real quick-like. The placement of the song on the album and the choice of what to cover shows that Mann is a seasoned musician who knows exactly what he’s doing.
Just when you think you’re on your own, our hustler bails you out for one last rebellious ride. “Take Me if You Can” is based on the true story of Mahala Mullins a.k.a. “Big Haley”, a 500 lb. moonshine distributor who had nineteen children before she was infected with elephantiasis, making it impossible for her to leave her bed and making her one of the most frustrating criminals of her time. Though the actual story takes place in the late 1800s in the Appalachians, our guy has you convinced that he knows this woman personally and you can still have a taste of her glorious nectar. The song is so much fun that it’s hard to believe it’s actually a true story making it the perfect Shine Runners song.
Things start to wind down a bit with “The Runner,” where we start to see that maybe this guy is thinking about life a bit more seriously. This is a driving song with a heavy backbeat and crunchy guitar but there’s a softness in Mann’s voice here. There’s a tightness between all the players involved and we find our character confessing that his lifestyle is getting to him.
The story begins to wrap itself up with “Love Deserved,” which confirms our guy has met his match and is changing. “Dylan and Presley” follows; a sweet song about Mann’s daughters, showing his most vulnerable side and folding our character and Mann together so that we wonder if these were personal stories all along. Slide guitar served up by Storm Rhodes, who also plays on a few other songs, gives the tune a lullaby sound.
Closing the album is the ballad “For Better or For Worse” letting us know that our character has ended up surrendering to something bigger than himself, his family. Background vocals come in as strong as they did with the opening of this album and the complete musical dedication to his Mann’s wife is both moving and inspiring. It makes the album a complete story and you’ve survived the trip.
While the Shinerunners have been an interchangeable band in the past, Mayo and bassist, Jeff LeGore (also L.A. transplants), have become permanent members, so it’s safe to say there’s lots more to come.
“Anytime but Now” is the band’s fourth album and will be available on iTunes and everywhere you can buy music on April 17th. The official album release party is open to the public and is scheduled for April 18 at the new Bowies in downtown Nashville, TN. where the band will play songs from the album.