Matthew Check is a lifelong singer/songwriter whose musical career shrinks the distance between genres, finding its own balance of American roots-rock, contemporary Jewish folk, children’s music, and bluegrass.
Following a string of releases as a solo artist, as well as a critically-acclaimed album with the folk duo Joanie & Matt (featuring the Grammy-winning artist Joanie Leeds) and a stint as the original banjo player for Gangstagrass (whose signature song, the Emmy-nominated “Long Hard Times to Come,” features Check’s contributions), Check peeks into his not-so-distant past with The Amazing Worth. Due out August 13th, the EP is a time capsule of sorts, written and recorded more than a dozen years before its 2021 release. Back then, Check was a newly-minted New Yorker who’d recently moved to the big city from Newtown, Pennsylvania, looking to play music and dive deeper into his Jewish studies.
“I was also in graduate school at the Jewish Theological Seminary, getting a masters in Jewish Education,” he remembers, “but I really spent most of my time playing bluegrass banjo at the jams in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn.” On a downtown train one night in October 2007, he met a woman named Josie. A simple exchange of words had turned into something larger by January 2008, when the two began a brief, whirlwind romance that served as the catalyst for The Amazing Worth’s collection of love songs, breakup tunes, and everything in between.
The Amazing Worth is more than an album about an unstable relationship that eventually came to a close. It’s an album about a man who moves to New York City in his mid-20s and falls in love not only with its inhabitants, but its endless possibilities, too. Although primarily a bluegrass musician at the time of The Amazing Worth‘s creation, Matthew Check reached far beyond the genre’s boundaries when he wrote the EP’s six songs, leaning closer into an amplified mix of electric guitar, barroom piano, and arrangements that split the difference between the classic and the contemporary. Perhaps Josie inspired him to broaden his horizons. Or maybe it was a combination of time and place — a life-changing relationship during the early years of adulthood, set against the backdrop of the country’s biggest metropolis — that fired up Matthew Check’s creative engines, speeding him toward a new horizon.
Today Glide is excited to premiere “Back to Sleep,” one of the standout tracks on the new album. With a rock and roll piano sound that smoky vocals that bring to mind Warren Zevon, the song carries a stomping groove that showcases Check’s talent for singing, songwriting and composing. There is a timeless barroom rock and roll sound to the tune as Check layers in catchy vocal harmonies and plenty of jammy electric guitar. Of course, the piano ties it all together and makes for a sound that feels straight out of the hazy 70s.
Check describes the inspiration and process behind the song:
“‘Back to Sleep’ was the first song in a multi-piece cycle about a woman I fell in love with in the winter of 2008. The lyric in the chorus, ‘back to sleep my love,’ is an homage to the Israeli writer S.Y. Agnon. In his 1909 short story Hill of Sand there are two lovers. The woman asks the protagonist, ‘What are you?’ The response is, ‘I am a sleeping prince whose true love puts him back to sleep.’
Musically however, I like to think of it as just a good old-fashioned rock song. In April of 2008, I asked my parents in Newtown, PA to go away for the weekend. Me, my brother and my other friends that would play on the album descended upon our childhood home with instruments and equipment to record. The drums were tracked in our basement and the electric acoustic guitars, vocals and piano (our 1981 baby grand Yamaha that I grew up playing on) were tracked in the living room.
‘Back to Sleep’ is from an EP which leans towards an amplified mix of electric guitar, barroom piano, and arrangements that split the difference between what could be thought of as classic and contemporary. My style has evolved a bit since that era of my songwriting, yet it is still both exciting and nostalgic to finally release it a decade-and-a-half after it’s recording.”
Photo credit: Shervin Lainez