Raven Hotel

by Matt Harlan

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    “…a very accomplished collection of insightful song writing.”
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    “…the finest song collection I’ve stumbled across this year…and in many a year, for that matter.”
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about

The 12 guests of Raven Hotel are songs that celebrate the bright sides of dark places. Like a tapestry hung in a flophouse window, they reveal the ordinary splendor of optimism and second chances. In the first three tracks alone we see a glitter-skinned dancer find salvation in a haze of fiddles and exhaust fumes, a drunken troubadour quoting T.S. Eliot to justify his wandering, and an absent father finally teaching his kid to drive. Throughout this album, Matt Harlan makes the mundane magical.

credits

released June 24, 2014

Produced by Rich Brotherton & Matt Harlan
Recorded, Mixed & Mastered by Rich Brotherton at Ace Recording, Austin, TX

The Players:
Bukka Allen - Accordion, Organ, Piano
Maddy Brotherton - Violin
Rich Brotherton - Acoustic & Electric Guitars, Banjo, Lap Steel, Dobro, Bass, Synth, Vocals
Floyd Domino - Keys
Glenn Fukunaga - Upright & Electric Bass
Jon Greene - Drums & Percussion
Matt Harlan - Vocals, Acoustic Guitars
Rachel Jones - Vocals
John Mills - Tenor Saxophone
Mickey Raphael - Harmonica

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about

Matt Harlan Houston, Texas

Matt Harlan is a troubadour of the first degree, bringing songs of bus-stops, coffee-shops and lives overlooked to stages across his home-state of Texas, the USA and Europe. His expressive vocals recall Chris Smither and Chris Knight, shading his poignant songs with soaring heart and aching grit. ... more

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Track Name: Old Spanish Moss
The streets are alive with the sounds of the morning.
The hustling engines are off to the show.
The highways a’glitter like the skin of some dancer

With a late night addiction and a few miles to go.
I’ve heard enough of this radio station –
Ain’t sayin’ much, just talking to talk.
The curtains come up, we all take our places
And shuffle-ball-change through the tailpipe exhaust.

Hard times and trouble are weighing on you
One way or another it’s bound to cut loose
Down by the water, it’s time to get lost
And dance ‘neath the trees with that Old Spanish Moss

I wish we could laugh like the clumsy old river
That trips though the hills with his eyes on the moon.
He sings as he sways that the lord loves a giver
And we whistle along to a different tune

It’s a bow to the caller as you hold your arms wide.
And it’s a turn for the babies and a turn for the bride.
We just work to keep workin’, it’s a waltz to a waltz
But we’d rather be dancing ‘neath the Old Spanish Moss.

Now the dancer she's dreaming of a hillside confession --
The smell of salvation on the soft country wind.
Jesus says, “Baby, life’s a 3-chord progression.
We’ll pick it back up when it comes round again.”

Hard times and trouble are weighing on you
One way or another it’s bound to cut loose
Down by the water, it’s time to get lost
And dance ‘neath the trees with that Old Spanish Moss
Track Name: Half Developed Song
I woke up this morning with just a whisper on my lips
But my head was screaming loud enough for two
After trying so damn hard to drive the day out of the night
You know the sun came ‘round to find me and collect the debt that’s due
And he told me I was keeping too much time asleep inside
So I went walking out on Main Street with my eyes all open wide
And I was hungry for a taste of something, I was hiding for a time
Tried to start a revolution and all I got was this old rhyme

You know some days you wake up wrong
You’re like a half-developed song
All your pieces they don’t seem to get along
Still you try to face the day
With all the rules and all the ways
You try to keep yourself from bending close to breaking
And take stock of all these chances you are taking

When all you got is questions and a pocketful of time
You know it’s hard to keep from ending up there on the welfare line
There’s so many roads to choose from and why you just can’t tell
But all the boys down at the crossroads say that this one leads to hell
And you know last night at the bar I guess I made more than I spent
But all that money ain’t enough to pay the rent
Sure it adds up in the tip jar and it’s enough to buy some smokes and rent a cheap motel
And if that sun comes up tomorrow, I guess it’s just as well

Cause we’re just trying to get a glimpse, take a look under the sheets
And there’ll be time to make a face for all the faces that you meet
And time for sharing secrets and the wishes that we’ve made
There’ll be time to lay your head down in the shade.

But, you know some days you wake up wrong
You’re like a half-developed song
All your pieces they don’t seem to get along
Still you try to face the day
With all the rules and all the ways
You try to keep yourself from bending close to breaking
And take stock of all these chances you are taking
Track Name: Second Gear
Drop it down another gear
The roads are slick this time of year
That curve will come up quick and send us flying
You know I’ve been around
Traveled up this way and down
No rush out here is worth the chance of dying

These tracks are flat and worn so let them guide you
The scars will leave a compass on your skin
You’ll find a higher place that you can climb to
Just leave a trail to show them where you’ve been

See those smooth spots on the wheel
That’s experience you feel
White knuckles gripping down and holding tight
I stayed on the road for days
Truck-stops and KOAs
That dashboard picture got me through each night

The edges rounded down, the image faded
Two children and a wife all hand-in-hand
My place behind the lens, insinuated
By a shadow and the footsteps in the sand

Don’t it all seem to pass
Like a spring storm on the glass
If you weren’t there you’d swear
It never rained a drop
But outside looking in
Is where I’m left to start again
You grew up ‘fore I knew it,
Now I wish that you’d just stop

And drop it down another gear
Til the dark clouds disappear
Just think of how your mother’d end up crying
You know I’ve been around
Traveled up this way and down
No rush out here is worth the chance of dying
Track Name: Riding with the Wind
Riding with the wind
Sleeping in the clouds
Thinking that the whole world stops when you roll your windows down
Climbing through the trees
Hanging on a limb
Tracing every old address ‘til you find yourself again
Riding with the wind

Bleeding with the hearts
Singing to the choir
Staring down a loaded gun like some white dove on the wire
Talking with the ghosts
Spinning on the page
Floating through the friendly fire and the white lights of the stage

Then time stands still
Your heart beats slow
That familiar chill
When it’s time to go

Flagging down a car
Living on the wing
Chasing every broke down dream like the past don’t mean a thing
Laughing at the sun
Dancing in the light
Going where the sidewalk ends and the dead flames reignite
Riding with the wind
Riding with the wind
Track Name: We Never Met (Time Machine)
Lately I’ve been thinking on how I ain’t no perfect man
‘Cause he had lived and died so long before I walked across this land
Still I see the shadows and I try to fit inside
But my old shape was badly bent before I knew my wrong from right

Still I try every day to make one less mistake
And give you all you say you wish you had
But I ain’t got no time machine
For when you say that you wish we never met

Well it’s hard to be your lover and it’s hard to be your friend
When you don’t offer no forgiveness it’s a game nobody wins
Still I broke that law so sacred – I broke that old Golden Rule
You know I never would want done to me the things I’ve done to you

So I try every day to make one less mistake
And give you all you say you wish you had
But I ain’t got no time machine
For when you say that you wish we never met

Well I guess all me and Jesus have in common is long hair
And that I love you even when you tell yourself that I don’t care
Still I did not come to save you – I could never be so bold
I just wanted to stay with you ‘til we both grew tired and old

So I tried every day to make one less mistake
And give you all you say you wish you had
But I ain’t got no time machine
For when you say that you wish we never met
Track Name: Rock & Roll
The holy ghost and all his friends were throwing out their useless battle plans
Where “peace be with you” and the last “amen” looked just like bullets in a gun.
The earthly sinners closed their eyes, elected leaders they could idolize
And said, “We’ve come too far to compromise.” They said, “What’s done is done.”

“Don’t it make you wanna rock n’ roll?”
We couldn’t play that song today.
We’re swimming in the foreign policy.
We’d miss the irony anyway.
Still they’re singing sweet and soulful
We just can’t recognize the words
John, the relevance is gone, we’ve got a scarecrow for a song but we can’t move a single bird.

“I voted for the living end,” I heard a young one tell an older man.
“I’ll have a mansion in the promised land. The Revelation’s at the door.”
I saw a poster choosing sides, but not one person seemed to have it right.
Still they agreed that it was worth the fight, “We just can’t take it anymore.”

“Don’t it make you wanna rock n’ roll?”
Twist and shout the blues away.
We’re on the edge of someone else’s dream.
We’re probably standing in the way.
Still they’re singing sweet and soulful
We just can’t recognize the words
John, the relevance is gone, we’ve got a scarecrow for a song but we can’t move a single bird.

“Don’t it make you wanna rock n’ roll?”
Stoning saviors in the streets.
Dropping bombs in foreign neighborhoods
While half the world is fast asleep.
Still they’re singing sweet and soulful
Sick and spinning in the sound.
John, the relevance is gone, sold our spirit for a song and left it buried in the ground.
Track Name: Raven Hotel
There's a full moon in the sky above the Raven Hotel
I'm locked out of my room again and stumbling to the lobby
Saw an old friend from a distance, but it was nearly hard to tell If it was true.

He said it's been a long time, it always seems to happen,
The months turn into lost phone numbers, people move around
The second hand was twitching when I asked about his family
The room was ready for his check-in.

He said I'm living in my own world now, you can stop by if you like
'Cause I'll forget to call and I'll forget to write.
Between the airports and the hotel rooms, I spend 3 nights out of 10 in my own town.
Nowadays that's settled down.
I'm in my own world now.

You know it's not that often -- if you really know me well --
The times I'm feeling lucky for the things I take for granted
But to see a knot untwisted and a poor man come unwound, I think of you.

My guitar's on the bed like some old preacher at confession,
Just there for conversation when there's no one else to bother,
I ask him if he thinks you'll be there when I'm home in Houston,
But the holy wood and steel, they did not have an answer.

I'm living in my own world now, you can stop by if you like
'Cause I'll forget to call and I'll forget to write.
But if you need me you can find me out there, Singing at the bar somewhere in town,
Until they shut it down.
I'm in my own world now.

Well the bottle's half-way empty at a quarter past eleven
It’s only way to sleep inside these temporary cages.
And the late night men are desperate as they try to bring some light into the room.

Tomorrow we'll be out among the modern population --
Call home if we have the time, tell the kids "Good morning."
It's hard to wonder if we're not all products on a shelf
When the moon is high above the Raven Hotel.
Track Name: Old Allen Road
Smoke’s rising high past the trees in the pasture
We’re burning the fields down for spring
Preparing the dead leaves and wood for the harvest
Turning the rust back to green

There’s a ranch that I tend out on Old Allen Road
More work than we ever have men
From the looks of us seems like we’re modern-day cowboys
There’s good and there’s bad and they mix ‘em all in
‘Til you can’t tell a fiend from a friend

There's a Texaco star past the first hazard light
Where the workers all gather at dawn
With rolled cigarettes and fresh cups of coffee,
The headlights roll in and they're gone –
They load 'em all in and they're gone.

The sun’s low if you’d like to go
There’s work left to do out on Old Allen Road
But I’ve seen the darkest of things
Way on down Old Allen Road

If that radio squawks about building a wall
Those boys’ll crack wise in the cab as we roll
Down that long, gravel road and I’ll try to keep calm
‘Cause I don’t plan on working here long, boys
I don’t plan on working here long.

There’s a girl named Maria and she lives in my head
When we’re done with this pasture she’ll be in my bed
So I keep to myself and I mind to my crew
And try hard to ignore the work that I do
I just do what they tell me to do

The sun’s low if you’d like to go
There’s work left to do out on Old Allen Road
But I’ve seen the darkest of things
Way on down Old Allen Road

Those boys were lying flat on their backs in the flatbed
Speaking Spanish, spitting seeds on the ground
And when the sun finally set and that fire done quit
We dropped ‘em off somewhere in town boys
Off on the dark end of town

But now Jimmy won’t say and Tommy won’t talk
And I swear there were four when I left in my truck
But the highway patrol said there’s two that remain
And there’s blood out on Old Allen Road

Out here in the pasture it’s calm and it’s quiet
Ain’t much that’s changed in the last 20 years
A few telephone poles and new roadside reflectors
Since the last folks moved in around here

But if you let your mind wander the fence-line horizon
There’s live oaks and cedar and a wildflower mound
You start to forget all your trials and your troubles
The evil you find and the shape you’re in now
Just seem like a movie somehow

The sun’s low when I have to go
Another day’s work out on Old Allen Road
But I’ve seen the darkest of things
Way on down Old Allen Road
Track Name: Burgundy & Blue
It’s grey outside my window and the winter’s taken hold –
Like some poor man’s fingers wrapped around a broken saxophone.
There’s time enough for thinking and time for doing right.
We’ll race the kitchen to the hall and dance away the frozen night.

I’ve got some empty pockets, you’ve got some ragged shoes,
But our dreams are wrapped in blankets made of burgundy and blue.

I had a way of being that never served me good.
My thoughts were unbecoming me, my heart was made of painted wood.
But you threw off my shadows, left me standing in the light.
You laid my soul wide open ‘til I thought I nearly died.

Our lives are not suspended like some hummingbird in June.
I’ll leave these dirty rags behind for burgundy and blue.

You are my true companion – a shot to chase the clouds.
A Summertime reminder of the ways that I am now.
We’re young until we’re older, and half that time is hell.
The other half is worth it when you find you’ve settled well.

Oh, I am not a rich man, but I tell you this is true,
One day I’ll buy you dresses made of burgundy and blue.
Track Name: Slow Moving Train
At night when I find myself too wound up to calm myself
I sit and I listen, and wait for the whistle of a slow-moving train
When the light of the day goes dark and inspiration’s a dying spark,
I wander alone, where the poets have roamed to seek their own way.

And I can picture the miles of track, heading northbound and coming back.
Old conductors and rusted cars, but all the hobos have long since passed.
So I can’t hitch a ride myself, but when I’m worried I find myself
With my ears trained to listen and wait for the whistle of a slow-moving train

I wish I could stroll away and leave the wreck far behind me,
But I can’t hardly roll away with all that’s buried inside.
So at night when I find myself too wound up to calm myself
I sit and I listen, and wait for the whistle of a slow-moving train.
I sit and I listen, and wait for the whistle of a slow-moving train.
Track Name: The Optimist
Raindrops in my coffee cup
Help to cool it down.
'Cause everything does something good.

I could streamline this coming summer season.
Buy an AirStream cheap from Idaho.
Get a friend of mine to front the money easy--
Just lift my dress and strum this old dobro.

'Cause everything does something good,
It's just hard to make out.
Like these yellow lines in my strawberry hair
And this old guitar I found.

Sometimes I tune in to empty pages
And this tongue can only roll out broken phrases.
But when the sun shines, I got whisky for the cravings
And a place to land when I shoot away my savings.

'Cause everything does something good.
It's just hard to make out.
Like these train lines across my dusty skin
Serve to roll me home now.

I'm a sun child and a virgin for the day (yeah)
'Cause each day's new somehow.
And my birthname is Katherine Mary Lee,
But you can call me baby for a ride on into town.

'Cause everything does something good.
It's just hard to make out.
And the grey clouds are just shades for your eyes.
And the rain means everyone's allowed to cry.
The rain means everyone's allowed.
Track Name: Rearview Display
Is this a road? Is this a road? Is this a road I wanna travel?
All the baggage left to gather and so much to throw away.
Short, white lines lay broken down beside me,
Up ahead and far behind me
In the rearview display.

In a long, black night a mind will tend to stop believing
All the things the eyes are seeing beneath the pale moon light
Is this a road? Is this a road? Or is it just some broken highway?
Another trick to mystify me with it’s soft midnight ways?

It’s a calling – a fire on the mountain.
And many will trample that old hallowed ground.
But there’s falling stars across the landscape –
Surrounded by the wishes that dragged them all down.

Is that a slow sunrise or just a tired sun setting?
In a westward direction or easterly bound?
If you close your eyes, you can hear the road singing,
“Another mile, another burden for the freedom I’ve found.”

Is this a road? Is this a road? Is this a road I want to travel?
All the baggage left to gather – so much to throw away.
Short, white lines lay broken down beside me,
Up ahead and far behind me in the rear-view display.