Fresh Blood is already Matthew E. White’s second complexly beautiful album this year. The Richmond-based composer, arranger, songwriter, guitarist and all-around Spacebomb Records entrepreneur produced Natalie Prass’ debut record that came out last month. And now, with his own sophomore effort on Domino (the label that gave 2012’s stellar debut its wide release), White is poised to continue forging the path that Big Inner began three years ago.
White’s home base at Spacebomb comprises an analog studio, record label and all-inclusive production house with diverse orchestral instrumentalists and a choir. With the team at Spacebomb, White imbues Fresh Blood with bolder and more expansive arrangements. Conceptualized with house band members Cameron Ralston on bass, Pinson Chanselle on percussion and Trey Pollard on guitar, the strings evoke subtle chamber cooing on tracks like “Tranquility,” while the brass channel the Memphis Horns on “Vision.” Together, they sound downright orchestral in songs like “Golden Robes.” And yet, the foundation of Fresh Blood is rooted in tradition, as exemplified by lead single “Rock & Roll Is Cold” breaking down genre stereotypes in its lyrics, but doing so over an old-school, 12-bar blues structure.
Additionally, Fresh Blood provides a depth that White couldn’t quite channel or foresee on Big Inner. His contemplative messages range from addressing rampant sexual abuse in religious institutions like in “Holy Moly” to confronting the suicide of a friend’s mother in “Circle ‘Round The Sun.” “Tranquility” also faces death in a different way, honoring and paying tribute to the late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. Musically and lyrically, each track on Fresh Blood feels like a micro-journey in itself; White never lets the listener stay sonically or emotionally in one place. And that sense of perpetual motion will likely sustain Fresh Blood’s longevity, too.