For most of Matthew Houck's career under the moniker Phosphorescent, the native Alabaman turned Brooklynite via Athens, Georgia, was on his lonesome, plying a kind of woozy, atmospheric variety of folk. Now he's got plenty of company, having finally made Phosphorescent into a full-fledged sextet, but he often sounds lonely, or sad in any case, beset by heartache, twangy guitars, and weepy pedal steel. Houck fell hard for country, turning in a Willie Nelson tribute (To Willie). Then he upped the ante with this spring's Here's to Taking It Easy, a gorgeous country-rock outing with the vintage flavor of Sweetheart of the Rodeo-era Byrds, maybe a touch of George Jones sitting in on Workingman's Dead. Except Houck's songs have a subtle post-modern, alt-country/pop savvy that lurks even in an otherwise straight honky-tonk ballad like "Heaven, Sittin' Down." The rousing, horn-goosed opener, "It's Hard to Be Humble (When You're from Alabama)," is the most upbeat and blatantly pop tune on the disc (and the only one to justify the allusion to that other band that once took it easy). Meanwhile, the questing guitar in the epic closer, "Los Angeles," strongly suggests Neil Young. Singer-songwriter J. Tillman was a late addition as opener for Phosphorescent. Tillman's languid, existential contemplations also have a country streak. His new one, Singing Ax, is due in September.
Tue., Aug. 3, 7 p.m., 2010