It wasn’t until early 2011 that Johnnie Matthews, frontman of Elim Bolt and former bass player of Sequoyah Prep School, made his recording début. With the final moments of Sequoyah’s album Spells, Matthews confronted the music industry head on with the track “Suits”. The track was stripped down, and timid beside the confidence and comfort of Justin Osborne’s voice on the first 10 tracks. But even as that track built upon itself, and Sequoyah concerts gave Matthews the chance to perform live, something started to happen. A shaky voice turned into a vibrato. Timidness turned into confidence and everything started to shape up from there.
The seven songs on Elim Bolt’s first record Nude South, are truly a debut in many ways. They tell the story of a young man and his departure from a rural South Carolina town and relationship struggles that go hand in hand with maturation. While Nude South is also a fitting title, a self titled record could have been equally, if not more fitting. Matthews is after all the man who bolted from tiny Elim, SC. You’ll have to look up Effingham, SC to find out much about Elim. It’s more of a community in spirit than a destination on a map. Tiny Elim takes its name from one of the places the Israelites camped during their exodus from Egypt.
Nude South opens with “Only You”, giving your first taste of reverb and a full dose of Matthews voice right off the bat. It’s unique, most closely resembling Roy Orbison, but is supported throughout the album by Amber Joyner’s voice that meshes tightly. They blend together so well that that you may not notice both voices with a casual listen. It’s a similar formula to what Sam Quinn and Jill Andrews did with The Everybodyfields, but with Elim Bolt, Joyner never takes the lead.
So often in indie rock these days reverb is used as smoke and mirrors to hide flaws. Over the years it has been referred to as the “suck knob” or the “talent knob”. It has the ability to smooth out some rough vocals. With Elim Bolt there is a difference. There is a need to capture the essence of the 50’s and 60’s heard on the roomy vocals of songs such as The Righteous Brothers “Unchained Melody” or the notorious crooning of Jim Morrison on “Riders on the Storm”. Matthews’ voice fits comfortably in this niche, but at times on Nude South misses in the clarity department. With such poignant lyrics such as the chorus to “Farm Kid” where he sings “All I want to do is deeply love you, but all I seem to do is deeply hurt you” the listener desires more of the story, but understanding is a struggle.
While each song on Nude South is strong in its own right, songs like the hymnesque “Blue Jays” and the thumping “Bat Shit” stand out for being different. The production of the songs side by side turns into a wash of sound over the course of the listening experience. What the overall “sound” adds in the unity of the album tends to draw from the actual meat of the songs themselves. The aural numbness created by the wash of reverb is occasionally broken by soaring lead guitar parts and quivering organ leads that peek through at times and capture the listening experience.
Nude South is strongest when it is broken down to the core. Well written lyrics and careful melodies sitting on familiar chord progressions that serve as the vehicle for the message. And although the message isn’t as clear as it could be, the big picture is. We’re not in the country anymore.
Elim Bolt will perform at New Brookland Tavern Wednesday, November 28, 2012 with Modern Man and People Person.