Austin based playwright Randall Wheatley is no stranger to the music world; his long career in theatre has seen him rub elbows with some genuine musical luminaries like Willie Nelson, among others, so the idea that he would eventually try his own hand at a musical work isn’t much of a surprise. Surprise enters the picture when you take a listen to his album release Everything Matters and hear how naturally he tackles the form. It sounds like Wheatley has waited his entire career for this opportunity and puts his best foot forward with a superbly written collection that encapsulates his talents in concise, faithful fashion while still presenting a resolutely musical work. Rather than transforming the medium to fit his talents, Wheatley has adapted his skill set to the form and the ten songs included on this release testify to the success of his efforts.
The first song “Somethings Are Better Left Alone” has a moody mid-tempo pace and strong drumming dominates the arrangement, but the inclusion of understated guitar work nicely tops things off. Wheatley’s delivery here isn’t singing, per se, but closer to narration with a slight vocal lift and ideally suited to the song’s clipped lyrics – the same lean economy he likely brings to his playwriting transfers well into the medium of song and the obvious focus makes this a strong opener. “The Middle Ages” has a more overtly blues/soul sound than the aforementioned tune and Wheatley is joined by a second vocalist for the song; it’s a successful pairing. The melodic pedal steel lines woven through the arrangement juxtapose nicely against straight forward six string flourishes and the slight stomp in the song’s tempo never tests listeners’ patience but, instead, gives it a nice push towards its inevitable conclusion.
“Betty Goes Shopping” is one of the album’s highlights. Wheatley’s voice is, once again, alone leading the way with a lighter musical arrangement than we’ve heard thus far. The song’s narrative chronicles the title’s character visit to a Wal Mart and that scenario provides Wheatley with an ideal platform for exploring the humanity of the moment. “Shrimp” is much different than anything we’ve heard thus far on Everything Matters and shows the clear influence of Tom Waits on Wheatley’s music. It’s profane at points, has a jazzy arrangement backing Wheatley’s recitation, and revels in its language and details. It may be the sleeper jewel in the album’s crown. A swell of keyboards opens “The Damages of my 6:20 Alarm”, the album’s second longest track, and once again Wheatley’s facility with language serves him well. The arrangement is relatively simple, but serves its purpose and Wheatley’s voice inhabits the song with a welcoming but authoritative tone.
Similar to the earlier “Shrimp”, the wonderfully titled “Furniture as It Relates to the Failure of Our Dreams” is a spoken word performance set to music. The arrangement shifts from dissonant light art rock at the beginning into an ukulele driven section and evolving from there, but the most important components are the lyrics and vocal delivery. Wheatley does a fantastic job dramatizing the lyrical content for listener and it’s another dazzling exhibition of language revealing a side of Wheatley’s talents more traditional songwriting fare cannot expose. Eclectic scarcely begins to describe Randall Wheatley’s Everything Matters, but it will do. He’s comfortable tackling both traditional and non-traditional approaches and fills these cuts with an undeniable and sometimes hard-bitten spirit. It’s one of the most interesting and ultimately rewarding releases in recent memory.