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Few Local Songwriters Have Grown So Much, So Fast …

Very few young songwriters out of Newfoundland have grown so much and so quickly, or so into their own, as Matthew Hornell: he has become an undeniably genuine and devoted musician. And he was great from the start, when he began his musical career as a member of the now defunct but legendary roots-folk band Dead Language, alongside Katie Baggs, Johnathan Bungay, and Benjamin Rigby.

From there, he released his 2010 solo debut, which included the townie classic “Red Crescent.” It was a multi-award-winning and trad-tinged folk album that garnered much critical praise and attention and marked him as a man to watch. And watch we have, as he matured precisely like a fine wine, with increasing sophistication and a desire to get better still.

For the last 5 years, and particularly since his musical union with resophonic guitar virtuoso Andrew Sneddon, Hornell has aligned himself with the Bluegrass genre, and it suits him as well as hay in the mouth of a cowboy. The music he’s making lately sounds 100% authentic, and he has become an altogether impressive guitarist, and his vocals — and passion — match the music with perfection.

“Little Mountain Church House” off Matthew Hornell and the Strangers

His Union with Andrew Sneddon Clearly Marked a Serious Changing Point in His Musical Career … 

Hornell met Sneddon after moving to Halifax. He was living around the corner of Gus’ pub, and went to see Adam Pye’s band. He and Adam got to talking about a gig Hornell had landed at The Seahorse.

“I needed a band, and he had some musical comrades from previous endeavours.  We hung out a few times, rehearsed, played the gig, and they all befriended me.  I was quite grateful to find new musical pals, as I moved to Halifax without really knowing anyone, aside from townie buds Ryan Laite and Ryan Stanley.”

To anyone paying attention to Hornell’s career, it’s clear his musical union with Andrew Sneddon, because of that show, marked a serious changing in point in his musical trajectory. And Hornell agrees.

Upon  moving to Halifax, he says “I was going through some changes, and that transition led me to new stimuli, new ideas, interests, relationships, friendships. I’ve really tried to learn from anyone and everyone around me, and have been fortunate enough to know and play with Katie Baggs, Ben Rigby, Josh Bourden, Paddy Bryne, Johnathan Bungay, Clayton Saunders, Stanley, and a ton of other cats at jams and watching them play, studying.”

“But hands down, my musical relationship, and friendship with Sneddon has perhaps been the strongest focal point to date. Through the last four years or so, we’ve performed hundreds of times together, and I find each time I walk away feeling like I learned something.  Something that works, something that doesn’t. What to fix, what to focus on.”

He says he finds Andrew’s unique discipline and disposition can be contagious, or intoxicating. “His respect for music, the tone, space, timing and delivery, became prevalent in mind, and it has been something I continue to strive for. Hard practice. All the time. Mixed with having a big laugh.”

His Current Cross-island Tour Is to Promote a Great New EP …

He is town this week, playing 2 shows with Sneddon, to release a great new EP, Matthew Hornell and the Strangers, which fans of Old Crow Medicine Show or Spirit Family Reunion will delight in.

“Leavin’,” “Little Mountain Church House,” and “Ain’t Nobody Gonna Miss Me” are first-rate, footstomping, bluegrass gold. Sneddon and Hornell will be joined by Paddy Byrne on double bass and Clayton Saunders on mandolin and percussion.

“It’s a 5-song bluegrass EP,” he says. “it is similar to all my work, in that I’m singing and really feeling it, and with a live, or raw sound. However aside from that it’s quite different.”

He’s referring to the fact they’re 5 trad or classic covers. “I didn’t write any of these songs, but we did add some original arrangements to some of them. The themes that I find myself connecting with are struggle, love and loss, philosophy, religion, sports, outdoors, the state of the world, travel, fashion, streets, people, and having a good time.”

Lots to Love about His Bluegrass Period …

For Hornell, there’s lots to love about playing bluegrass. “It’s the tone. The harmony singing. The fun in the lyrics, though they’re sometimes quite sad and deep. The fun in playing the rhythm and playing with the rhythm.”

“It’s the filddle tunes, which have got me to learn and want to learn a whole bunch more. Bluegrass is so very linked to “the old country,” ie, Irish, Scots, Celtic. However the styles were altered over centuries away from their homeland and isolated in the mountains and territories of North America. Same stuff kinda, just with a different feel or emphasis. It’s dance music. Like Newfoundland music and Irish music.”

That said, he won’t let the sound box him in, and says he plans to explore other genres in the future as well. “The more the merrier,” he says of his plans to learn all types of music from all types of musicians, so as to include what he learns into his own songwriting process.

Win a Pair of Tickets to One of His St. John’s Shows … or Both of Them

Thursday night he’ll be at the LSPU Hall (8-10, with an opening set by Ryan Laite) and Friday night, 10:30, at The Ship (opening set by Kat McLevey) … a venue that’s still clearly dear to his heart, as he says he’s really looking forward to a good Storm coffee porter, Bill’s jokes, and Bev’s food. Here’s his entire NL tour schedule:

July 22nd – Three Sisters, Placentia
July 23rd – LSPU Hall, St. John’s w/ opening act Ryan Laite
July 24th – The Ship, St. John’s
July 27th – Two Whales Coffee Shop, Port Rexton
July 29th – The Garrick Theatre Annex, Bonavista
July 30th – Driftwood Inn, Musgrave Harbour
July 31st – Galliott Studios, Woody Point
August 1st — Brewed Awakening, Corner Brook

… and he’s pretty excited about it. “God love all the other spots and thanks to them because they’re wonderful, but Newfoundland? The Ship? The Hall? THe people! The food, the times, the support. The way people engage here, and move, and share that kind of energy. There is no place I’ve found in my travels that compares.”

Enter to win tickets to Thursday’s show at the LSPU Hall, or Friday’s Ship show here. or Both!

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