Tips & Compliments

by Matt Harlan

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about

“Tips & Compliments” is the 2009 debut CD from Matt Harlan. The album hit #1 on the Euro Americana Chart when it was released and features the #1 Americana song from the Billboard World Song Contest ("Elizabethtown"), plus the work of top-notch musicians from Warren Hood (fiddle) to Marty Muse (Robert Earl Keen; pedal steel).

credits

released October 19, 2009

MUSICIANS:
Matt Harlan - Vox, Acoustic Gtr, Banjo
Rich Brotherton - Vox, Acoustic & Electric Gtrs, Lap Steel, Mandolin, Cittern & Percussion
Rankin Peters - Upright & Electric Bass
Mike Mizma - Drums & Percussion
Warren Hood - Fiddle
Marty Muse - Pedal Steel
Riley Osbourn - Keys
Phoebe Hunt - Vox on 5 & 11
Tom Van Schaik - Percussion on 2

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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: Elizabethtown
I got a bad phone call from Elizabethtown.
Said my brother, he’s back in jail.
& the kids are staying with the grandfolks now,
Cause there ain’t noone ‘round here, family or not
Even thinking about going his bail.
He’s been living down the wrong road now.
Is what some people they’re saying.
Going on a couple of years.
But I was there when he nearly blew that boy away.
& I ain’t ever thought once in all my life
I’d ever see so many tears.

I said, “Justin, please you break my heart.
You’ve got a soul of gold, but you ain’t that smart
On the streets – & boy you’re needing to be.
If you wanna keep tumbling around,
Keep your own two feet from flying off the ground,
Wanna keep acting like you’re some damn Indiana kingpin…
Just shadow boxing on the corner where you planted your seeds
Waiting for the snow to fall & cover your dreams, alright.”

I don’t think too much about Elizabethtown
But there’s some memories that I can’t shake.
It’s like slideshows taped up behind my eyes –
I’ve got one for every time I tried to get away
One for every time that I stayed.
It’ll take you fifteen hours to get from there to here
It takes me nine every time I leave.
I ain’t ever been one for the long goodbyes.
I ain’t ever had the stomach for the same old scene
Never had the patience to pray.

I said, “Justin, please you break my heart.
You’ve got a soul of gold, but you ain’t that smart
On the streets – & boy you’re needing to be.
If you wanna keep tumbling around,
Keep your own two feet from flying off the ground,
Wanna keep acting like you’re some damn Indiana kingpin…
Just shadow boxing on the corner where you planted your seeds
Waiting for the wind to blow & scatter your dreams, alright.”

I got a bad phone call from Elizabethtown
Said my brother, he’s out on bail.
& the kids are still staying at the grandfolks house
Cause there ain’t noone ‘round here, family or not
Even picking up on one of his trails.
He’s been living down the long road now
Is what some people they’re saying
Heading down to the pier.
Then his body washed up just the other day.
& I ain’t ever thought once in all my life
I’d ever see so many tears.

I said, “Justin, please you break my heart.
You’ve got a soul of gold, but you ain’t that smart
On the streets – & boy you’re needing to be.
If you wanna keep tumbling around,
Keep your own two feet from flying off the ground,
Wanna keep acting like you’re some damn Indiana kingpin…
Just shadow boxing on the corner where you planted your seeds
Waiting for the snow to fall & bury your dreams –
Just standing on the corner where you planed your seeds
Waiting for wind to blow & shatter your dreams, alright.”
Track Name: Skinny Trees of Mississippi
The skinny trees of Mississippi are dancing past the window,
& I’m trying to gauge the distance between their swaying limbs & mine.
We’re both tied down by the truth of how our lives change as the wind blows,
But my roots have turned to wheels – all my blood, it turned to wine.

I’ve known lovers like the autumn leaves, too early on the ground.
Then there’s those that crossed their fingers
While they swore to stick around.
Right now I’m feeling empty as the gas can in my trunk.
All my pistons fire slowly, my engine’s turned to junk.

The dashboard started shaking, still I laid the pedal down.
Then the whole thing started trembling, & my resistance came unwound.
The damn thing just gave out on me when I needed it the most –
Too many miles from where I’m bound, too many more to go.

Love is like a fast car on the highway
Breaking down on you all unaware.
Some times you have to pull it to the shoulder.
You gotta slow it down to make a few repairs.

I hear hard rain on the soft top, I smell White Rain in the air.
It feels just like you’re with me, it’s almost like you’re there.
Then the tow truck pulls behind me as you turn your head to speak,
& I’m alone out on the interstate with a quickly fading dream.

So we pull into the station & the driver pulls away.
My head winds like a spindle, wondering what I’ll have to pay
They’re inspecting & detecting all my cables, belts & fans.
I am left here holding pieces of all my best-laid plans.

The skinny trees of Mississippi are dancing in the wind –
Their swaying limbs releasing all their leaves to grow again.
In every waking moment we learn better ways to grow,
But then, in every moment after, we destroy each truth we know.

Love is like a fast car on the highway
Breaking down on you all unaware.
Some times you have to pull it to the shoulder.
You gotta slow it down to make a few repairs.
Track Name: Something New
We used to hide up on the hills
Drinking beer & chucking rocks down at the highway.
At the rolling 18 wheelers that went crawling down the road.
Every time we’d hear ‘em hit,
Our hearts would start to thumping & ‘a pounding,
Just ‘a praying it was never someone’s daddy that we know.

& we’d sit out in the woods
Burning cedar with our lighters & just laughing.
Smoking cigarettes & lying about girls that we had known.
Every time we named a name,
Our hearts would start to thumping & ‘a pounding.
This town’s so small we’re praying that our cover won’t be blown.

We said, “My friends we’re bound to live a long, long, time…
& what’s the use in living if we can’t come close to dying?
I’d rather ball the world up in a pocket & be through,
Than to spend another minute being scared of something new.”

When we finally turned sixteen
We got our parent’s cars & tortured all the gravel.
We tried to point our reckless wheels to roll us past the edge of town.
One drove a Lincoln Continental.
One drove a truck that you’d hear coming for a mile.
One drove right off a cliff & left his brother in the pile.

I had a different haircut then.
It was long on top & shaved up on the sides.
I was looking for myself in places I would usually hide from.
I liked the older crowd I guess,
Skipping school & smoking reefer by the creek –
& all those older girls that let me feel ‘em up in the back seat.

I said “My friends we’re bound to live a long, long, time,
But what’s the use in living if we can’t come close to dying?
I’d rather ball the world up in a pocket & be through
Than spend another minute being scared of something new.”

I swear these tales I tell are mostly true.
Sometimes those city folks don’t know what all the small town boys will do.
When drugs & love & drinking is all you have to pass the time
‘Til we move into your city & try leave it all behind.

I made it back the other day.
I was glad that most my buddies moved away.
I visited a few that wound up stuck there in their graves.
The older kids they stuck around.
They up & found themselves a new, young crowd.
They just can’t escape the gravity that holds them in this town.

So we sat ‘round drinking beers.
They were smoking speed & counting down the years.
I was so sad to see them stuck inside a world of rust & tears.
So I turned around & waved.
& I told ‘em I’d be back same time, next year.
Just worried to my bones I’d find that there was no one here.

They said, “My friend we’re bound to live a long, long, time,
But what’s the use in living if we can’t come close to dying?”
Me, I’d rather ball the world up in a pocket & be through,
Than spend another minute being scared of something new.
Track Name: Suitcase Blues
Friday morning, silent sky.
Birds poised & quiet on the power lines.
Ugly children disregarding cross-walk signs.
I’m rubbing last night from my eyes.
This city always wakes before the rising sun.
Six cups of coffee before I feel like I belong.
I hit the boulevard with the bus just two minutes gone.

Watching daybreak kill the last few rays of night.
Got this new woman, smooth as candlelight.
We talk of saxophones & dead men’s eyes.
But she don’t know she’s mine.
She bleeds affection like most saviors do.
I walk like cotton all around her room.
I’d tell her everything that haunts my mind,
If she weren’t on it all the time.

See, every woman’s got the suitcase blues.
If they ain’t packing, man you know they’re leaving soon.
Feeling lucky? You just do what I do –
Try to catch ‘em when they’re on the move.
Track Name: Driving Song
Baby, I can’t sleep.
All the cars that pass outside flood my room with light,
& I wish I was gone – Windows down & rolling to your door.
‘Cause baby I see you.
In the dim light of the bar night, as your hazel eyes go blue,
& I wish I could hold your hair back as the liquor takes its toll.

There’s miles that sit between us & cities to pass through,
But I don’t want to bear my soul to anybody new.
So I’m driving though the hours thinking of a song.
Driving through the hours ‘til we can be alone.

Feel that Texas heat
As it beats down in the noonday & you’re parked right on the freeway.
There’s nowhere to hide – just steel frames rolling down the same long ride.
Just 20 minutes gone.
Shirt sweat on your armrest there’s a sadness in your bones. I wish you were home,
‘Cause I’m tired of being strong for when you go.

We scale the miles between us. We struggle to get through.
Working on our selves & working on each other, too.
We go driving though the hours singing our own song.
Driving through the hours ‘til we can be alone.
Track Name: Everybody Else
There were days I grabbed a guitar strung
With all my hopes & dreams,
& played until my fingers tore
To the fresh skin underneath.
Now, mostly I just go to work,
& practice all those ways
To be like everybody else.
Trapped inside a window room,
& the sun it surely shines.
But I can't feel a single thing
With these laptop hands & board-room eyes.

I've been snared inside a paycheck.
Locked inside for days.
Scratching out a living under
Someone else's name.
Outside there's rubber on the highway,
& fossils in the dirt.
Everything that is today
Is something we once were.
Ghosts left haunting empty houses –
Scaring just themselves,
& finding different ways
To be like everbody else.

Babe I need you more than ever
'Cause I can't tell how much I've grown.
Compare me to your own sweet measure,
Graphite & wood, or hurting bones.
Come & find me in the twilight
I'm sleeping but for you I'll rise.
Come tear me from this dark & dreamless
World of fear & rich man's lies.

Time jumped up & moved without me –
Shifting all that I have known.
Clowns run circles in the forest
Claiming all they see their own.

I hide under the patch work sheets,
The warmest of the prison cells,
& dream up all these ways to be
Like everybody else.

Green-eyed women circle ‘round,
Like moths they take their turn.
Just like me they're waiting for
The sound of my return.
Ghosts left haunting empty houses,
Scaring just themselves,
& finding different ways
To be like everybody else.

Babe I need you more than ever
'Cause I can't tell how much I've grown.
Compare me to your own sweet measure,
Graphite & wood, or hurting bones.
Come & find me in the twilight
I'm sleeping but for you I'll rise.
Like morning break this restless slumber,
Awaken all that nests inside.
Track Name: Waiting for Godot
Early morning trembles shake the ash right off your smoke,
Contemplating nursery rhymes & broken radios.
Falling off the wall is something everybody knows, but it gets old.
& worlds are crumbling inside all those cookie cutter homes,
While outside we're all fighting for the right to turn to stone.
Rolling through the motions isn't half as fun as tumbling on the road...but it gets old.

& every night a child is born alone I sit & listen for the world to take a breath.
But nothing stops the turning of the globe quite like a rich man's death.
& the poor boys with their thumbs out in the cold, they're the ones left waiting for Godot.

Trailer parks are always first in line to feel the flames.
Today I watched that old wallpaper curl & float away.
The rain came down to wash it all to mud, but the water fell too late.
So Carrie Ann & I packed up that old Cabriolet & drove it ‘til the wheels fell off near Mexico way.
I stood in line to work out on an oil rig & cried as Carrie waved.

Each night as I fall down so alone I sit & listen for the world to take a breath.
But nothing stops the turning of the globe quite like a rich man's death.
& the poor boys with their thumbs out in the cold, they're the ones left waiting for Godot.

Busted flat remembering how my old man used to say, "Some grow into millionaires & some just fade away. The sun still sets on everyone in time, no matter what you’ve made."
But no one wants the memories of soup lines & mistakes, & I can't help but wonder how the summers feel in Spain.
Sometimes there's a flicker in a hubcap that takes those thoughts away.

Still each night I lay frozen to the bone I sit & listen for the world to take a breath.
But nothing stops the turning of the globe quite like a rich man's death.
& the poor boys with their thumbs out in the cold, they're the ones left waiting for Godot.
Track Name: Over the Bridge
Running around in a different town, but the lights don't flicker quite like New
Orleans.
& I'm luckier than most I guess...I got a tank of gas & a paycheck in my jeans.
Some were hunkering down & I was Texas bound, on that long, black stretch of road that I once roamed.
Now I'm looking around & I can't remember how I called this concrete garden “home”.
I left town when the rains came, I just kept finding less reason to stay.
But there's times I wish I hadn't floated away.

Over the bridge & past Old River.
Back to Houston town.
Right back to that life I knew was keeping me down.
There's miles & miles of Texas, but that ain't all I've seen.
'Cause if it's pride I'm proud if it's blood I'm bound to that city of New Orleans.

Back in '75 I was staying alive turning cards to cash & blowing it all on dope.
When it got too deep I just headed East to the swamplands searching for my father's ghost.
Well I rolled in a gambler thinking sure as hell that things would stay that way.
But there was something in the Acadian wind that blew my luck every time I sat to play.
It was there I met my sweet Louise, she was born a red-stick girl.
We settled in the Quarter like an oyster pearl.

Over the bridge & past Old River.
Safe from Houston town.
Protected from the life I knew was keeping me down.
Sure there's pretty girls in Texas, but that ain't all I've seen.
'Cause if it's pride I'm proud if it's blood I'm bound to that city of New Orleans

I was traveling West down old I-10 & the cars were go & stop & stop & go.
& their angry drivers, burning up, were tell & show & show & tell & show.
So I gave a call to my old friend Paul just looking for a place to rest my head.
It's my first night back, & I'm cooking smack in a barroom filled with gambling fools instead.
Man, the levees broke & the floods came, & I'm left standing 7 hours away.
Drinking beer where the burned out junkies play.

Over the bridge & past Old River.
'Neath the lights of Houston town.
All wrapped up in that life I knew was keeping me down.
Sure I'm high & dry in Texas, but that don't mean I'm clean,
'Cause if it's pride I'm proud if it's blood I'm bound to that city of New Orleans.
Track Name: Tips & Compliments
Last night I dreamed again about North Carolina,
Coming down from the mountains, coming in from the cold.
I had me a hound dog & I had me a banjo,
We could lay it down double time, & play all night long.

Singing songs about old John Henry, & all those rails that he had to drive.
& all of the while there's a steam engine rolling behind.
Then the sirens, they caught me sleeping to their long & moaning sound.
& I'm just living on tips & compliments in a dive on the east side of town.

Well the bars are all closing, But I ain't quite tired.
So I packed up my banjo, & lit out for a drive.
I rolled down the dirt road. I rolled down the window.
“Swing Low” on the radio – I was humming along.

I pulled right up to our old houses, & lord, everything had changed.
But it struck me so funny, 'cause I sure do look just the same.
I try hard not to blame all this running around, it's just how these things pan out, When you're living on tips & compliments in a dive on the east side of town.

Last night I dreamed again about North Carolina.
I had me a new name, & just to pass it around
I lied to the waitress, & told her I was from Texas.
With the tip of my hat, I tipped her a twenty & rolled out of town.

Singing songs about old John Henry, & all those rails that he had to drive.
Then one day he found a strong woman to lay down beside.
Then the crickets, they caught me sleeping to their soft, staccato sound.
& I'm just living on tips & compliments in a dive on the east side of town.
Track Name: Walter
Walter was my grandpa’s dog & I thought he was my own.
He used to chase the herd of Barbado we kept outside my grandpa’s home.
I’d join him & we’d holler at the ghost moon ‘til it shone –
Just rolling in the dirt & running wild in San Antone.

Back then I couldn’t drive away, I’d run or dream I’d fly away.
I always seemed to find the road back home.
I thought Walter, he was leading me, those days beneath the live oak trees
But he was only chasing rabbits & I did it on my own.

Singing Li-la-li, lie-la-lie, sometimes it takes you by surprise –
The time it takes to write a simple song.
Sifting through the sands of time, like souvenirs you've left behind,
You can't always decide what you remember.

I can picture my first night in jail, bad coffee & a crowded cell.
The first time I rolled a reefer up or kissed a pretty mouth.
But sitting here with all my thoughts of all I’ve done & all I’ve lost I can’t recall the day we put ol’ Walter in the ground.

Singing Li-la-li, lie-la-lie, sometimes it takes you by surprise –
The time it takes to write a simple song.
Sifting through the sands of time, like souvenirs you've left behind,
You can't always decide what you remember.

Now my mind races like a river through the creek beds & the lime.
& I'm seeking out those memories I guess I left too far behind.
I swore I saw that ol’ gray dog just sniffing at the ground around the birch tree in my grandpa’s yard right where we laid him down.

Singing Li-la-li, lie-la-lie, sometimes it takes you by surprise –
The time it takes to write a simple song.
Sifting through the sands of time, like souvenirs you've left behind,
You can't always decide what you remember.
Track Name: Warm November
The sky is two shades of purple from these clouds & city lights.
I sit alone on a cold, stone bench on a warm November night.
I’m thinking everything starts so simply in this world & in my mind,
But old Time ties it all together just like a mess of creeping vines.

& if I drank to find an answer or screamed to calm my mind I’d just be slipping farther, oh Lord, all along that line.
I don’t celebrate my madness or cry for my mistakes, it’s just too hot for November & I’m just about to break.

Rolling through those hillsides, the highway feels so fine.
& the wind blows through the windows as the dirt road gives way to the lime.
This great big world has got me desperate, got me swinging at the knees.
& these hands can’t feel to keep holding the wheel though this high, lonesome breeze.

If forgiveness is the high road, who’s to say you’re there?
Oh but I’ve been walking lower darling & dragging hard on this killing air.
But in dreams I do remember how solid life must seem when you’re the clouds that taste every drop that we waste before it melts back into the sea.
Track Name: You're Just Drunk
At eight o'clock you walk into your favorite corner bar,
You’re trading jokes & stories with your friends.
You see a short-haired girl, she’s sitting, drinking all alone.
Remember these few words before you go ask her to dance...

You're just drunk, & things ain't what they seem.
All the barroom girls forgot to pull on new blue jeans.
& all those pictures you're admiring on the wall –
There's no Italian masterpiece - just poker playing dogs.
Just like those sleeping semi trailers & the old refinery lights,
It's funny how they all look good at night.

The barmaid calls the last one, so you order one more round.
You toss it back, pay your tab & slam that bottle down.
The short-haired girl with hungry eyes looks like she wants to go.
Please, remember these few words before you try to take her home...

You're just drunk, & things ain't what they seem
Seems like all the barroom girls are looking good in dirty jeans
& the music you were dancing to so slow
Well, it ain't fate or destiny just top-ten radio.
Just like those sleeping semi trailers & the old refinery lights,
It's funny how they all look good at night.

You wake up stumbling from your sleep & heading for the door.
There's a pounding in your head as you recall the night before.
You turn to see that short-haired girl lying in your bed of shame.
You walk right up to wake her but you can't recall her name.

Aw, cause you get drunk & things ain't what they seem.
Seems like all the barroom girls can't wait to take off those blue jeans,
But in the morning with their faces bathed in sun,
They'll leave you hurt & wondering how you thought she was the one.
Just like those sleeping semi trailers & the old refinery lights,
It's funny how they all look good at night.
Track Name: Dresses
I've found friends in alleys, & I've made friends with thieves.
So, I've got time to spare if you'll take a walk with me.
I'll tell you all my stories ‘Til we have to make our own.
I think we'd be better off together than alone.

Two life-times full of lessons, & we've heard our share of lies.
You don't bring me no excuses & I don't bring you mine.
Bring me no excuses & I don't tell you lies.

It's just dresses on a clothesline - A quiet valley where...
I swear I dreamed this day before & you were standing there.
Light fell on your shoulders - I drew a thankful breath.
There were times I could've settled down, but I'm glad I didn't yet.

Crazy on the midnight, coming on like a mirage.
She's an open-ended question when the conversation drops.
There's a sweetness & a sorrow in the iris of her eye.
& after seeing quite a lot of her, I still get surprised.

I'm not always in my element walking through downtown.
I was raised where there were fewer bright distractions to be found.
It's the smell of watered asphalt in the heavy Houston air...
& I'd be lying if I told you that was all that keeps me here.

It's just dresses on a clothesline - A quiet valley where...
I swear I dreamed this day before & you were standing there.
Light fell on your shoulders - I drew a thankful breath.
There were times I could've settled down, but I'm glad I didn't yet.