Most of the time I enjoy detailing to friends (or anyone who will listen) exactly why they should listen to a particular album or artist. Most recently, I simply hit the play button for Matthew Perryman Jones. As a longtime fan, I could try to distill down the various reasons I think he’s among the finest singer-songwriters of a generation — the substantive approach, the searching lyrics, the sublime melodies — but it was easier for me to save time and get right to the goods.
On his way to his next full-length (unofficially due next February), Jones recently released Cold Answer, a new seven-song EP that serves both fans (who are waiting for new music) and songs (since some of these tracks lacked a “proper home”). Largely centered around a larger theme of expectations dashed, Jones has given fans another strong set of emotionally-charged songs — this time a bit more desolate and dreary.
The most recognizable track is “Can’t Get It Right,” a song co-written with Lily Costner and made famous on the hit drama Nashville. The popular track was performed on the show by Sam Palladio, but now Jones has a place to put this confessional. It fits right in with the rest of Cold Answer as he sings, “Driftin’ into silence I feel a tightenin’ in my chest/ I’m reachin’ out for something that I already missed.”
The EP’s cornerstone is a title track that sits comfortably alongside Jones’ finest compositions to date. The lonesome track features a sparse acoustic accompanied by haunting pedal steel, providing a perfect backdrop for Jones’ stark realizations, “There’s a room in everyone where a cold answer can be found/ And if a word can knock down a wall, then this house is just a box on the ground.” It’s a cold relational end that hits too close to home, and likely comes from an equally vulnerable place in the songwriter.
Other highlights on Cold Answer feel just as empty. Jones admits again and again how “tired” he feels on “Wrestling Tigers,” as he sings, “I had a reason to doubt there’d be better days.” Molly Parden joins Jones for the lighter tone of “I’m Sorry” that still carries a somber note despite a Josh Rouse-like acoustic feel. “I Can’t Go Back Now” might be an answer further down the road of desperation: “I don’t know where I’m going/ This is not what I had planned/ But I can’t go back now.”
There’s no resolution at the end of Cold Answer. Perhaps that comes with the full-length. Such answers only come in time anyway. Each album is a documentation of a period of time, this one is likely one filled with the sort of life-altering event(s) that come with such a lyrical progression of heaviness and sorrow, resolve and loss. Jones sings on the closing track, “I’m digging in my heels/My will is set in stone… It’s a long way home.” Home is an undefined end point, but Cold Answer is a beautifully vulnerable chapter in the journey.