Written by James Killen
Feb 09, 2013 at 08:00 PM
ImageIt’s been a while since I’ve seen Matt Harlan, so I opened a spot on my calendar when Eddie Ferranti told me that he’d be appearing at the Hops House on the ninth. It was also a good chance to check out a couple of songwriters that I had not seen here-to fore.

Most HMR readers know Matt Harlan as one of the country’s most promising up and comers on the folk and Americana scene, with his descriptive lyrics and rich musical content. He has earned his position as part of the Houston song writer gentry.

Bob Simpson is a promising young writer from San Angelo, whose influences come predominately from the C&W side of things. He has a smooth delivery and a way of taking everyday situations and feelings and bringing them home in a song.

Nicolette Good, currently hailing from San Antonio, shows the country roots in her writing with a pleasant pop voice. Her lyrics seem to be from the perspective of a strong but sweet, independent woman that knows what she wants and has little sympathy with the games people play.

The evening was a swap with Bob starting the round, Nicolette coming second and Matt ending up each round. Nicolette often chipped in with Bob on backing vocals and Matt played some poignant leads for both Bob and Nicolette. Even though the artists played their songs alternately, I thought it would be easier to follow if I wrote about each one individually.

Bob’s songs for the evening seemed to be mostly newer stuff that he had not included on his 2008 CD. Many of them held images of West Texas, like “Sleepy Town” and “Ain’t No Reason for Me to Stay” that featured the line “I can get out of this cage, just by lifting the latch”. Bob did a fine job of reinterpreting the Mando Saenz song “Wrong Guy” and ventured into the country blues with one called “Kill My Blues” on which Matt played a killer lead.

A young man named Judson Colt was in town from San Angelo to try out for “The Voice” and being one of Bob Simpson’s old friends joined him on guitar and vocals for Bob’s song “Good as Gold”. Personally, I thought that Bob did some of his best stuff in the short set after intermission.

His “Lookin’ for a Girl” has great commercial potential for one of those Nashville singers wanting to record a hit love song. Bob wrote a song once in San Angelo when it became obvious to both he and his boss that he was not satisfied with his job. It was called “All isn’t Well with my Soul” and seemed to have universal appeal for anyone that needed a change in his life. His last song of the evening was written in Nashville at the Country Music Hall of Fame and called “Tennessee Rain”. Bob has recently relocated to Houston and will be showing up in venues around town. He seems to be writing new stuff pretty regularly. Give him a listen.

Nicolette Good started her evening with “Alone with the Radio” which she followed with “Call Me”, making one wonder if such a pretty girl had such a hard time getting a date. I’ll bet not. For her third song she resurrected the nineteenth century “Pretty Clementine” and gave it a twenty-first century twist.

ImageOne of my favorites of the evening was “Hurricane Caroline” about an old friend and roommate that was intent on not only self-destruction, but taking everything and everyone around her along. She paid tribute to her grandfather with his old favorite “The Tennessee Waltz” featuring a Matt Harlan lead. She also did a simple melody called “Love Song” that hinted at some old Buddy Holly influence. “The Mechanic” (currently only available on line) struck me as a cool analogy to life.

Her last two songs of the evening were “The Haunting of Monterey” and “The Road”. Nicolette seems to have plenty of songs ready for a new disc and that subtle wit that keeps you listening. I’m sure that there will be more on her at a later date.

Matt started out the evening with a song that I hadn’t heard before called “Raven Hotel” that immediately got my hopes up for the sprouting of a new CD. He continued with “Warm November”, that he seemed to be performing a little more staccato and in a sped up tempo. He continued with a song that he claims to have stolen from Quakers called “Bow and Be Simple”, followed by “Over the Bridge” and “Darker Shade of Gray”, again staccato and up tempo.

Then it came out, Matt’s “B” string was not staying in tune. For such a laid back guy, many people don’t see the perfection that he demands of himself, his songwriting and his performances and the errant string was getting him a bit frustrated.

He seemed to put that in his rearview as he said that he was open to requests as long as it wasn’t, “Stairway to Magaritaville” and then swung into the popular, “Elizabethtown” about that old friend or relative that just can’t seem to get it together. He invited an old friend, Chelsey Milley up from the audience to sing back-up on “Skinny Trees of Mississippi”. Matt’s second set included “Waiting for Godot” and “Walter”. Matt’s performance was immaculate, in my eyes, as always, in spite of the uncooperative string .

The Saturday night song swap drew quite a crowd for the Hops House, as Matt is one of the favorites out there. He will be returning with Brian Hudson on Wednesday night, March 6th, for the Hardtime Troubadours Soup Night. We expect to be seeing more of Bob and Nicolette at the singer songwriter venues around town.

It’s time for everyone to start marking up their calendars, because there are a lot of great shows coming up out there and you certainly want to line up for your share.