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Matt Whipkey’s “Fred, You’re Dead” Reviewed

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In theory, Matt Whipkey is simply too good to remain a regional hero. At the clubs and the dives of his native Omaha  he is a favorite son who is writing and performing great classic rock songs for a world where people have, to a certain degree, passed on classic rock. From U2 to Tom Petty to Bruce Springsteen and back, classic rock is for nostalgias’. Any classicist, any Matt Whipkeys who are attempting to perform solid, tuneful, rock songs, is tilting their way to the mainstream: any gust of wind will blow you away. So despite having recorded two of the best albums of the 21st century, 2015’s Underwater, a fine slice of modern day Americana, and 2013’s masterpiece Penny Park: Omaha, Ne: Summer, 1989, the world outside Nebraska haven’t gotten the message.

While 2016 seemed quiet from this far away, for Matt it was anything but as he opened for Dwight Yoakam and widened his reach. Yoakam is to country what Petty is to rock: a man whose greatest principles were always based upon the song, and Matt has the same gift. The gift of song is not the gift of performance, it is a different muscle and it isn’t what it once was. In the old days, it started with a couple of chords and a melody sung over it, in 2017 it is a fresh beat changing hands (or at least files) with very little regard as to where it will land. That is a real skill and it will make you rich but it isn’t Matt’s skill, as his fine new single, a protest song called “Fred, You’re Dead”, proves . The song surveys the effect of Trump presiding in a world where the bankers win even if they lose and it has a timeless gloom, a widened will you only harvest someness to it.

“Fred, You’re Dead” is a harp based blues, which starts off a touch chronic before getting a firm footing on the bridge and precluding a hope with dancers and death to take you away from the streets of Omaha and to… where? It is one of the few Trump protest songs I’ve enjoyed, the other two I’ve really loved were both rap songs, one by YG and the other by Joey Bada$$. As rap tends to, both those songs are solipsistic whereas Whipkey’s song is nihilistic in the truest meaning of the word, no exit in Omaha anymore where Penny Park recedes ever further into our memories. As closed down and shutoff as the Trump presidency ever shall be, the empty streets of Omaha  is so far from the parks and romance of 1989 that all that is left is rebelling into death.

 

Grade: B+

Matt Whipkey- Fred, You’re Dead from Matt Whipkey on Vimeo.

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