Blue Ridge Outdoors  ~

'Matthew O’Neill channels the spirit of the wilderness on his latest release.'

My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George, is a novel I used to love reading with my fifth grade students. The protagonist in the story, twelve-year-old Sam Gribley, bolts from the city to live on his own deep in the mountains of New York.

Singer/songwriter Matthew O’Neill could very well be a modern day Sam Gribley. Like the fictitious Sam, O’Neill spent much of his young adulthood in the wilderness. After losing his father at a young age, O’Neill turned to the wilderness for solace and wisdom. He spent time living in national forests and on Native American reservations and, during his travels, his music began to blossom.

For O’Neill, the melodies of music and the outside world are inextricably combined.

Recently, Matthew O’Neill celebrated the release of his latest record, Campfire Cook, and I was lucky enough to chat with him about this new collection of tunes and the wonders of being outside.

BRO – For you, what’s a perfect day in the woods?

MON – Wandering out the back door, tracking out in a certain direction, then following water or a canyon ridge till I’m pleasantly lost. Wander some more, do some sitting, praying, movement, snack on what’s growing around. Follow some more game trails, discovering some new places, creatures, nooks. I love a gentle rain to walk through. Then intuit my way home briskly, arriving at dark.

BRO – You have spent significant time in both western and eastern wilderness systems. Do you favor one over the other?

MON – If I had to, I’d say I prefer the eastern, slightly. Water is a big thing. I live in the Catskills, so that says a lot. There are plenty of things western wilderness has that eastern doesn’t, and vice versa, so for me I prefer to experience it all. Mountains by the ocean are a big advantage of the West, and so is the spirit of the Southwest. I love both, I need both. No matter where I am, I’m grateful for that place and I miss the other a little. I’m grateful I’m American in that sense. A citizen of our wilderness farms.

BRO – How has the solitude you have encountered during your time in the wilderness influenced your music?

MON – It’s had a great impact on my music. A defining impact, you could say. The sense of connection and infinity that comes from prolonged solitude, that is at the center. And it’s such a giving thing thing that, for me, the only way I can begin to give back in such a way is through music making. It’s also often where the voices come through for writing songs.

BRO – You made a conscious effort to get out of the city to record Campfire Cook. What was that?

MON – So far, I’ve tended to prefer recording in cabins and shacks and whatnot, places off the beaten track.  I prefer to be somewhere conducive to certain suitable types of magic. Sense of place is very important in songwriting and recording. This doesn’t rule out the city. I would say it was a conscious effort to record the record Out West, in Wrightwood, Calif.

BRO – We are featuring “Bluejay Cedar” on this month’s Trail Mix. What’s the story behind the song?

MON – “Bluejay Cedar” began in a summer thunderstorm here in the Catskills. Those storms are a highlight of the year, the way they come through with such immensely beautiful power and energy. Just vibrant rains. I remember sitting on the porch and thinking that if this doesn’t inspire a song, I don’t know what will.  A bluejay was hanging with me there, in a cedar for cover, and he was in his element within this pounding, swirling thunderstorm. They’re talkative, they’ll tell you things. Sometimes they’ll have some good messages, and it led me to more western locales and an allegorical song that is about heavy relationship issues. I’m not loquacious, so it’s good to have a little help sometimes.

For more information on Matthew O’Neill, when he might be coming to a stage near you, or how you might get your hands on Campfire Cook, surf the web over to his website.

BY ~ Dave Stallard

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"The sparse, can-kicking stroll of the title track is warmed up further by some Wurly and O'Neill's double-tracked  vocals that do indeed simmer with the vibe of a lonely cabin singalong waiting to happen." - CMJ

“Listen to the rolling folk of the title track that has echoes of Neil Young, and more than a little feel of the wonderful Wooden Wand about it – we’re liking this a lot…” – Mad Mackerel

“{"Campfire Cook”} has a natural country drawl, and the lyrics, connecting back to the title, are quite humorous and clever. It’s an empowering song and an exciting glimpse into what the new album has in store” – Magnet Magazine

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Review: Matthew O'Neill (live)

The Yodeler / Wrightwood, CA ; Feb 3, 2015

'...Be sure to pack a large tent and a wild array of supplies. It promises to be a wild ride. We step out of our time machine near the end of the last Ice Age. The location is North America, and pre-historic plants and beasts are everywhere. The tent is setup now and all supplies are in place. We are as comfortable as anyone could be twelve thousand years ago.

Matthew O'Neill is not tripping, but you wouldn't know that from listening to his five-piece rock band. Tall and muscled but lean, Mr. O'Neill takes easy command of the venue as his strange brew of roots rock blares out into the crowd.

Ancient peat moss and sabre-toothed tigers inhabit the music. Woolly mammoths rumble by, and the vanished human tribes that hunted them make an appearance. There's even a song called Mastodon to emphasize the point. In this music, the modern era slips away and the audience is transported to another time and culture. The Missing Link has a faded red Les Paul and will not let you go until he's through with you.

When the last swamp has drained itself out of the amplifiers into the ether, the audience is left reflective, not jubilant. This is a strong and mysterious album that they played tonight, not party-time by any stretch. 

I stumbled out into the street after the show with more questions than answers. Well worth a listen."

~ Arin Coulter

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“‘Campfire Cook’ is the sound of a man finding peace in the cool night air and quiet evenings. It’s relaxed but not without a core of anticipation for what the morning brings. Gorgeously conceived and arranged, the song lets us see exactly where O’Neill’s heart rests.” – Nooga
"Bizarre mountain rock, great songs with an atypical guitar style." ~ LA Weekly
"Country-tinged rock and roll...good, loud, fun, a group I will need to see again."- Radio Free Silver Lake
"Matthew’s songwriting is rural-primitive/awesome, his electric guitar work is pristinely luscious and beautifully intense, the band walks a fine and hitherto unwalked line between world-groove and country-rock ..." ~ Neptune Research Blog

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"Living with Facebook, Garageband, and a clutch of social media and cheap recording tools has made it easier than ever for aspiring musicians to self-produce and release their own material. And while many hail this shift as an unmitigated good, the resultant glut of material and new artists can be downright overwhelming for the curious listener-- all of which makes the discovery of a truly original and accomplished artist such as Matthew O’Neill such a precious and welcome find. Whether laying his hat in Big Indian, the Appalachians, the high Arizona desert, or the canyons of Topanga over the years, this singer-songwriter has been methodically writing, releasing and performing his own consistently engaging guitar- driven material, honing a distinctive sound that easily rises above the throngs of his DIY contemporaries. What sets O’Neill’s music apart is in no small part his versatile and singular guitar style, which melds elements as varied as virtuosic finger-picking, Old Time grooves, classic indie rock riffs, and world music rhythms such as Colombian cumbia into an alluring alloy that can evolve seamlessly from painfully fragile passages, to plaintive solo lines, then into driving squalls. Imagine John Fahey, Neil Young, and Thurston Moore vying for time on the same ax. Paired with an affecting and unassuming tenor and a wry lyrical sense that lingers on beauty and loss, the talented Mr. O’Neill’s real achievement has been to combine his various influences into an integral sound wholly his own. Whether backed by an able rhythm section or performing solo, Matthew O’Neill’s music may not be setting the indie-blogosphere ablaze, but that hardly seems to be his concern. Rather he is crafting lasting songs true to his own vision. A real needle in the online musical hay, don’t sleep on a chance to catch O’Neill live or to hear his self-released recordings."

~ A Martin

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“Matthew O'Neill plays uniquely energized contemporary mountain music and electric stomp rock. His songs open up to the wild, and feature a very unique blend of songwriting talent, artistic temperament, and instrumental ability.” ~ Carl Tomoff