That Cameron Matthews is a talented songwriter and adept performer is apparent; he's a confident singer and an evocative, often incisive lyricist capable of mixing genres and styles. It's just not clear what kind of performer he is trying to be. Heart-on-sleeve singer-songwriter? Soft-touch crooner? White-boy bluesman? Angry young man? Matthews tries on all these hats (and more) on Green. Blue. White., his second full-length. At fifteen tracks and nearly 60 minutes, the album feels overstuffed. The incongruities abound with the stylistic chances Matthews takes, though his expressive, occasionally mewling voice can usually bear the weight. "Help Me Raze This Place" begins with a little pinch of basement grunge and ends with a big dose of vitriol, and a few tracks later "In Defense of J. Alfred Prufrock" shows a writer able to put his English major to good use.
Any singer-songwriter has to contend with the weight of influence, and the temptation to crib from the masters is even more tempting for someone as young as the twenty-year-old Saint Louis University junior. And while Matthews is more canny than most of his peers at assimilating his heroes' traits into his own work, the album contains a few tips of cap to his forebears. The ragged guitar and string flourishes of "Park Bench and City Boy Shooter" wouldn't feel out of place on Elliott Smith's Figure 8. Later, he gets his Ryan Adams jones a-brewin' on "One By One" (which ends with a Crazy Horse-inspired guitar jam), and the California dreaming of "Bungalow" would make Jack Johnson crack a beer in Matthews' honor.
But Matthews' music often stretches the skin of homage a little too tight. The tin-can vocals and scruffy blues of "Make It Rain" sound like a parody, and the doo-wop affectations of "Today I Love You" come off as cloying despite a few hairpin lyrical turns (the kazoo solo doesn't help, either). Matthews is best at letting the simple dynamics of guitar-led folk-rock take hold, as on the album-closing "Current is Too Slow Too Master." In the song, he lets the earthy, open chords of his guitar fill up as much space as his vocals. Mood isn't created by playing sonic dress-up — it's achieved through good lyrics and honest performances. About half of the songs here get that balance right. Those highlights burn brightly enough to suggest that Matthews has a lot to offer on his more focused efforts in the future.