One-Man Band Suitcase Junket Augments Solo Act With Outside Influences on ‘Mean Dog, Trampoline’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Matt Lorenz, aka Suitcase Junket paints characters in various states of reverie: leaning on jukeboxes, loitering on dancefloors, lying on the bottom of empty swimming pools in the sun, all with glorious infectious indie-rock grooves on Mean Dog, Trampoline. The singer-songwriter multi-instrumentalist finds exuberant joy in making his unique sound, from subtle observations to the uncommon subjects of runaway kites, the gods that watch over our sleeping moments and the inspiration for the title – “Scattered Notes From a First Time Homebuyers Workshop.” (more on that later). Suffice to say, that unlike many of today’s songwriters writing about despair and gloom, Lorenz is finding his mojo by exploring often ignored nooks and crannies. And, this time, he got some outside help.

Steve Berlin from Los Lobos produced the album, broadening Lorenz’s sonic palette, adding beats, synth,  and bass to create fuzzed-out blues, psych-rock elements, and folksy moments. Berlin had a bizarre assortment of things to work with. Lorenz’s typical live set-up looks something like this – a folksy yard sale littered with odd trinkets and knick-knacks. His seat, a shoddy and beaten suitcase, doubles as a kick drum. In place of a snare drum is a tin gas can, often slapped by a small toy boot fashioned to a kick pedal. To his left is a saw blade and a cooking pan; they sound like cymbals when smacked in the right spot. The name, of course, nods to Lorenz’s longtime obsession with collecting old suitcases and to the definition of junket – a pleasure excursion. Lorenz can play virtually any instrument, having studied piano, violin, saxophone, and guitar. Realizing he can’t bring them all to live performance, he’s found his unique way to operate within limitations.

Lorenz’s vocals are intense, strong, melodic and dynamically sensitive when needed. His choruses are designed for crowd engagement, bolstered by his sister Kate’s harmonies. The opening “High Beams,” with its Joan Jett-like chorus, immediately reveals his gift for economical songwriting, describing an unsteady romance with these lyrics  – “She was pacing like a raging bull/With a heart half full of hurt, half full of doubting/And like everything I thought I had? It turned half bad before I got to think about it.” He finds clarity in a relationship when a song comes on the radio that both parties can relate to in the playful “Everything I Like.” The fuzzed-out “Heart of a Dog” features Berlin on synth and has that heavy quality of the Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus.” He gets more serious on “Dandelion Crown” empathizing with the trap of addiction while still finding a silver lining in how it transforms a person. He perfectly re-creates New York City’s unique energy in a song of the same name. He wants to see every moment through to its conclusion, good or bad in “Stay Too Long.”

Now, let’s return to the origin of the album title. The lyric in “Scattered Notes From a First Time Homebuyers Workshop,” a rambling jangling folk excursion, references what he first felt were incomprehensible notes but somehow cut right the chase, with “Mean dogs and trampolines are two things insurance companies really hate.” His endless curiosity is depicted well in the closing “Old Machine.” Consider these lyrics – “I made some moonshine/so I could put it in a song/and not feel a fraud/but I still don’t have a song/about knowing god/or god knowing me.”

This is an exhilarating ride and while Lorenz is comfortable playing within limitations, his talent knows no boundaries.

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