Matthew Solberg‘s high, breathy voice sounds like Elliott Smith’s. This immediately invokes unfair Smith comparisons and throws any little flaw into a distinct light (also unfair). Smith’s control of his voice was part of what made him king of sad, so it’s a tall order for Solberg to be compared.
That doesn’t mean that Solberg couldn’t learn from Smith. Solberg’s album has tunes in three distinct categories: fleet instrumentals, fingerpicked folk and strummed pop. The instrumentals are the most assured of the bunch; both “Petrified” and “Time Runs Out” are melodic, confident and memorable. “Moonlit Walk” is only a little less confident.
The fingerpicked folk, when relying on guitar, is solid. When Solberg pushes his voice to the extremes of range or volume, it starts to get stressed (the otherwise brilliant “Silent Wooden Memories,” “New Delight”). However, Solberg definitely has instrumental and songwriting skill, and he has a perfectly fine voice when he stays in a comfortable range: “Lullaby” is a gentle tune that shows off both his guitar skill and vocal abilities. But when he goes loud or hard, as he often does in his strummed pop (the chorus of “Whatever You Say,” “The Grotto”), things get a bit off-kilter.
Matthew Solberg’s songwriting is solid. With more control of his voice, he could become a big hit with Elliott Smith fans.