Moon Bros - The Easy Way Is Hard Enough (CD)
Strolling home after a gig one night in Chicago, Matthew Schneider, aka Moon Bros., was punched in the face by one young man, while another filmed the attack, presumably to post the video online alongside other “knockout game” videos. Though Schneider wasn’t knocked out in the attack, the assailants stole his prized electric guitar. Rather than sulking over his loss and victimhood, he took it as a sign to change direction and focus on acoustic guitar. This is the kind of person he is. In fact, he called it “the best day of his life.”
His new LP The Easy Way is Hard Enough raises a toast with the same glass-half-full outlook that Schneider has carried from his days as a young guitar prodigy in rural Illinois to his current status as a woodworker and carpenter in Los Angeles. So many fingerstyle virtuosos fall into one trap or another; bad production, hollow showboating, predictable influences, but Schneider bypasses all the tropes. In doing so, he gives the subgenre back to the weirdos, rendering it more palatable and listenable than it has been since the early ‘70s.
On album opener “OO Bub” the drum machine abruptly switches on, doing its best impression of a chugging steam-engine, and The Easy Way… begins. Over the rhythm, Schneider’s notes roll skillfully and effortlessly into one another aside joyous howls and grinning harmonica. As the song quietly sputters out, “Footsteps” appears on its heels with zero hesitation. Gorgeous, finger-tapped fractals of 12-string guitar tessellate outward and back in, while a pedal-steel acts as a gentle barrier to it all like water lapping against a stoney wall in some quiet corner of a lake. “Temporary Thoughts” pulls the contemplative vibe back out, and Schneider’s lyrics show up here at the very middle of the album, fashionably late, but welcome nonetheless. Any time he sings it’s brief and respectful to his guitar playing, adding to his string-band tapestry rather than hoisting into the foreground and blocking the view.
By the time The Easy Way… reaches “Okie” the river rapids have emptied out into a moonlit cove in one of the most passive, yet most brooding moments on the record. Here Schneider pulls off what the best psychedelic-era acoustic records do: the subtle blend of blues with the minor key drones and flutters of Indian classical ragas that led to a new form of contemplative music for the counterculture of the late 1960s and beyond. Schneider doesn’t just dust it off and call it his own, rather he coaxes it from his chakras, paying no mind to those oversimple idioms and their qualifiers. Continuing the quietude, more spirographic fretwork winds down to a gradual close with “Nasty Fresh” concluding the punctual and introspective journey that is The Easy Way is Hard Enough, a suite of adept guitar vignettes that prioritize heart over skill, yet possess a wealth of both.