Album Review – Matt Castillo’s “How The River Flows”

Take your favorite traditional 90’s country vibes, mix them with a good measure of strongly-written songs in the Texas music tradition, and spice it up with a just little bit of south Texas Tejano squeezebox flavor, and what you have is the latest album from Matt Castillo that will underpin your confidence that the fine traditions of country music from Texas and beyond are in good hands moving forward.

Growing up in Austin, Matt Castillo was exposed through his mother to a healthy dose of artists such as George Strait on cassette, sparing him from experiencing the descent of country music over the last couple of decades. When he did flip on the radio, what he found sounded so completely foreign to him, Castillo decided to do something about it and help reconstitute actual country music in the modern context.

This began with his band Matt and the Heardsman that Castillo started in 2013 when he was attending college in The Valley of south Texas, specifically the town of Edinburg minutes from the Mexico border, not far from where Freddy Fender and Charley Crockett are originally from, and where Castillo’s palette picked up some of those cross-border influences.

Since then, Matt Castillo hasn’t just been expending all of his energy complaining that his more traditional and more cowboy-oriented style of country music is frowned upon on commercial radio, he’s been trying to do something about it by touring around the state playing high energy shows, and visiting the Texas country-formatted radio stations personally to help spread the word. Now with a top notch album produced by Roger Brown in Nashville, Matt Castillo is ready to take his version of Texas country national.

How The River Flows is stories straight from Matt Castillo’s life to your ears, with nine of the ten tracks of the album co-written by Castillo, and top pickers and players bringing it all to life in a way that reminds you of the best cuts from country traditionalists. It includes tons of steel guitar and lots of twangy lead licks, but this record leaves things like fiddle and mandolin mostly on the sidelines in lieu of accordion to give Castillo’s music that unique aspect, rendering it more original and true to himself.

The album also has a few more modern textures as to not be entirely pigeonholed and inaccessible to younger audiences. Some of the start offs to songs may be a little too current for some traditionalist tastes, even if the songs quickly find a more familiar lane. The song “Cause He’s A Cowboy” may have an agrarian theme, but the guitar solo is straight from the Steve Vai school of arena rock.

Don’t fret though, How The River Flows is chock full of traditional country and cowboy tunes that are twangy as all get out, and tragically heartbreaking at times, including the bleary-eyed realizations of one of the album’s strongest tracks, “Leaving Since You Got Here.” The excellent dance floor single “Say It” is where Matt Castillo first made it onto the radar of Saving Country Music. And the title track of this album is possibly the best example of Matt Castillo bringing his personal story and style to the traditional country realm.

Making true country music in a way that still feels vital to a wider audience is the challenge every traditional country artist faces. By putting pieces of himself into the music, and blending sounds that are both familiar and forward thinking, Matt Castillo makes a strong case for himself as a banner carrier for traditional country music moving into the future.

1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)

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