Young Heart, Old Soul, the third album from roots-rock singer/songwriter Szlachetka, unfolds like the soundtrack to a cross-country road trip. Filled with heartland hooks, folk melodies, and searing electric guitar, these songs draw a line between Los Angeles — where Szlachetka lived for years, soaking up the warm harmonies and jangling riffs of the city's folk-rock icons — and his new home in Nashville, TN, the epicenter of modern-day Americana.
Road trips are nothing new for Matthew Szlachetka. For the past half-decade, he's been building his audience show-by-show, touring for more than 200 days a year while earning praise from outlets like Rolling Stone Country, who hailed his catalog of "road-dog roots-rockers and Americana ballads." Young Heart, Old Soul finds him in transit once again, writing songs about a country torn apart by politics yet united by a common spirit. Unlike the two albums that came before it, though, Young Heart, Old Soul is also a record about home — the homes we leave behind, the homes we temporarily visit, and the homes we build with others. Maybe that's why these 11 songs feel so grounded. After all, Szlachetka — whose self-made success includes high-profile shows alongside Brandi Carlile, Mike Campbell, and Blackberry Smoke's Charlie Starr and Benji Shanks; regular appearances on SiriusXM's Tom Petty Radio; and his own DittyTV program, Vinyl Recipes, which combines his love for music, cooking, and cocktails — isn't running anymore. Instead, he's finally arrived.
Produced by Scott Underwood, the Grammy-winning co-founder of Train, and largely recorded at Nashville's legendary Blackbird Studios, Young Heart, Old Soul offers its own version of amplified Americana music. There's plenty of rock & roll muscle here — the kind of epic, rootsy music that heartland heroes like Jackson Brown, Tom Petty, and the Eagles once defined, shot through with guitar solos and anthemic choruses. There's plenty of folk and classic country, too, from the pedal steel guitar that sweeps its way through "Had" — a song co-written with longtime collaborator Jeff Silbar, who famously penned Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings" — to the tropical Tex-Mex twang of "Lifeboat," written alongside Tim Jones. And then there are the many moments where Szlachetka confidently blurs the lines between genres, creating a sound that's just as diverse as the America he's been exploring as a road warrior.
"We're not as different as we're being made out to be," says the songwriter, who grew up in Massachusetts, launched his career during a decade-long stint on the West Coast — first as a member of the L.A.-based band Northstar Session, and later as a critically-acclaimed solo act — and moved to Nashville not only after recording his second album, Heart of My Hometown, with the late David Bianco (Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Lucinda Williams). "I think it's easy for artists to get on a soapbox and point fingers, complaining about all the problems in the world," he adds, "but it's a harder job to write a song that actually gets people who have complete opposite points of view to meet in the middle and talk through their differences. That's one of the main goals I had for the songs on this album."
On "Earthquake," soaring guitars build their way toward an uplifting breakdown, where Szlachetka and his group of studio collaborators — including fellow singer/songwriters like Sarah Aili, Brandon James, Mando Saenz, Tim Jones, and Jamie Kent — stomp their feet and sing together, repeating the phrase, "Gotta get together [and] build this world better." It's an inspiring moment of unity and kinship, and those feelings are revisited throughout the record — particularly in a number of smart, articulate love songs that spotlight not only Szlachetka's warm voice and guitar skills, but also his ability to breathe fresh air into familiar topics. On the folky "Just For Me," two lovers find a private, honest connection in a world filled with social media, and on the album's atmospheric opener, "Doesn't Do Her Justice," Szlachetka sings his fiancé's praises over moody soundscapes inspired by the War on Drugs, Drew Holcomb's Medicine, and Bob Dylan's work with producer Daniel Lanois.
Young Heart, Old Soul is an album about taking leaps and bringing people together in a time of divisiveness. It's a celebration of Szlachetka's journey — not only the physical trek that's taken him from California to Tennessee, but also the emotional travels that currently find him happy, engaged, and creating his own sound in Nashville. When he sings "There's a place for you here" during the album-closing title track, it feels like an invitation to join that journey. Warm, spacious, and personal, Young Heart, Old Soul is the sound of a songwriter hitting his stride.