Small Town Stories by Matt & the Herdsmen
by Randy Watson
“Matt & the Herdsmen” are a four-piece country/rock band hailing from the Edinburg, Texas, who formed in late 2013. Lead vocalist and songwriter Matt Castillo gathered together some talented local musicians and they began playing shows together which became further afield in a short time. Matt Castillo is the front man for “Matt & The Herdsmen”, singing lead and playing rhythm guitar. Beto Cavazos plays lead guitar and harmony vocals. Drums are the foundation of any song and Ruben Cantu holds that role, while the bedrock is Danny Salinas playing bass and backup vocals. Honorable mention goes to “roadie” Ryan Perez.
Special guest appearances were Jason Ellsworth on Fiddle and on “All Gone”, Charlie Vela sang harmony vocals. The recording was produced by Charlie Vela from Sounds of Rain Studios and Mastered by Billy Stull of Masterpiece Mastering. A nice touch on the inside cover of the CD, the band begins by thanking God, various parents/grandparents, role models, mentors, family members, friends, businesses and especially thankful for the love and support from their fans.
They have now opened for Jack Ingram and Toby Keith as well as Peyote Hill, Cold Steel Revolver, Last Call Band and popular local country artist Costello. They also wrote nine original tracks along the way and, in August 2014, they took to the studio to record their first album Small Town Stories.
Matt & The Herdsmen (L-R) Danny Salinas, Bass/Vocals; Ruben Cantu, Drums; Beto Cavazos, Guitar/Vocals; Matt Castillo, Lead Vocals/Rhythm Guitar.
Small Town Stories consists of seven tracks beginning with Too Drunk Anyway, written by Matt Castillo. It’s an upbeat country song with a strong vocal performance from Matt, well supported by the authentic sound of his group. Lyrically, it’s not quite as happy, about losing your woman due to drinking, but the second verse gives some hope that the song’s protagonist will amend his ways. I enjoyed the short but well constructed guitar solo that leads into a burst of fiddle, balancing rock and country nicely.
Second track Chance To Make You Stay (by Matt Castillo and Max Costello) is a country ballad in the classic style, with an extremely well constructed chord progression that builds gradually. It features some gorgeous guitar throughout (both steel and regular electric) and again finds a man struggling to keep his woman, with some poignant imagery: “Saw those teardrops falling on the pavement, saw those red tail lights fading away…”. A classy piece of songwriting.
Third song Dance All Night is also a romantic ballad but a happy one, and it has already been released as a single to a rapturous response. You can see why, it has a vocal melody that instantly charms the listener and you can easily imagine it being popular as a couple’s song, one for a romantic slow dance. The song’s lyrics are suitably intimate and touching (“I can feel your heartbeat dancing next to mine…”) and features a mellifluous solo before the anthemic last chorus.
The fourth track Love I’d Find is a bit rockier with a strong beat behind it, but still in keeping with the rest of the album. Lyrically, it’s more melancholy, the song’s character lonely and looking for love, but hopefully finding it in a late night bar. The lead guitarist gets to let loose on this one, played with a deliciously creamy tone. All Gone is even more rocky, with the crunchy riff on the verse recalling my high school days and Elton John’s classic (Saturday Night’s) Alright For Fighting and keeps up the mid-album momentum successfully.
Life I’ve Been Living is another of the country/rock epic ballads that they do best, lyrically an ode to ‘whisky and women’ and burning the candle at both ends. It features the kind of guitar solo (courtesy of Beto Cavazos, like the rest) that demands to be played on a cliff top, if a video were made. Ramblin’ Man is a strong way to finish the album, co-written by Castillo with Omar Perez. It’s a paean to personal freedom and not wanting to get tied down, with the driving music capturing the excitement of a life on the road.
Overall, this is a highly accomplished and enjoyable debut album, all the more remarkable when it is considered they’ve only been together 18 months. They sound like they have been playing for years and the songs all have a lyrical depth and maturity that belies the age of the songwriter. With the radio success of Dance All Night already obtained, I’d imagine this album will garner them a lasting fanbase that should give them a firm foothold in the Red Dirt/Texas Country music scene.
Listen to their music on their mattandtheherdsmen.com or better yet, check out their schedule and listen to them live.