“Oh, we move along/In life you learn so many songs,” so starts the first track off “Coming Up” off Birmingham-based acoustic duo, The Matchcoats’ debut EP, Blanket Tricks. Saturated in brilliantly simple lyrical truisms and painted with delicate strokes of bluesy folk-driven melody and harmony, the musical relationship between husband and wife Gabriel and Sarah Akins overflows into the life of anyone who treats themselves to the duo’s experiences in song. In most cases, the Matchcoats put the listener’s well-being ahead of their own in hopes that what was once specific and personal to the songwriters can be expounded upon and ingrained into the fabric of their audience’s day to day living, a relational approach to storytelling that is becoming rare in a culture driven by self-serving art.
“All of these stories that are being told are our stories,” says Gabriel Akins, whose alternating-base style acoustic blues playing inspired by artists such as Mississippi John Hurt anchors the melodic space of the songs. “We have our life with people and we have conversations. Being fair to our story helps us be fair to other people. There is more present with them than what meets the eye. It’s very relational and our music is wrapped up in more than just our music. We’ve not only been able to get involved with music around Birmingham, but we have formed some of the richest friendships out of music.”
One such artistic friend, Wilder Adkins, served as a launching point for Gabriel’s desire to knock down the fourth wall between musician and listener. Other musicians that have entered the Matchcoats’ lives through musical interactions include The Clay States (Stephen Collins and Lauren Little), Justin Cross, and Matt Waldrep, who introduced Gabriel and Sarah into the Greyhaven Community, a Birmingham music collective whose strong emphasis on collaboration led to many of the early shows for the duo.
The genesis of the group began in 2006 before Gabriel and Sarah’s marriage, but the real formation occurred in late 2011 with the release of the 5-song Blanket Tricks. The names of both the band and EP derive themselves from a Revolutionary War-era clothing item, which allowed wearers to don a blanket to keep them warm and carry their equipment. For a songwriter who focuses his listening on the musical legends of the past rather than the trendsetters of the present, this homage to a revered time period makes perfect sense.
The Matchcoats have since released several other songs on their Bandcamp site, but hope to record all of their compositions on reel-to-reel equipment and present their audience with a fully formed album. Their single, “Tattered and Blue,” recently debuted on Birmingham Mountain Radio and conveys a special meaning for Gabriel and Sarah.
“The song uses the metaphor of a doormat in considering what we do when we come in and out of people’s lives,” Gabriel says. “What you pick up on the road, you should kick off at the door or you’ll kick it off at people’s houses and in their personal lives. If you don’t have a sense of common courtesy or self-control that you’re not going to drag everything on your feet into someone’s life, you’re not going to put it on the doormat and you’re going to bring that into people’s lives.”
The Matchcoats join a rich songwriting scene in the Birmingham area and their increasing audience of devoted fans will see to it that they stay around for years to come.
Photo by Caleb Chancey.