(Rhythms Magazine 2019)
In Australia, country music has long been a vehicle for telling the stories about the challenges of living, surviving and thriving across this great land. The tyranny of distance plays a big part in those songs, with the geographical spread of major cities and the sunburnt highways and red dust roads that connect them.
In the 21st century, Australian Americana and alt-country music have succeeded in taking the key ingredients of country music and blending them with folk, indie-rock, blues and psychedelia to create a soundtrack to urban cosmopolitan living, while still recognising and celebrating the genre’s organic roots-based origins. It’s a scene that has thrived and expanded, with growing international connections, and one artist that has firmly established himself as one its leading songwriters is Matt Ward.
Matt, who was born and bred in Adelaide, South Australia, comes from a long line of family boot makers and outside of music he’s had years of experience in land management across the outback. That travel and insight informs his songwriting, as do all his life experiences, through love and adventure. As a young child, Matt learned piano, voice and theory but it wasn’t until he started playing guitar and channeling heartache and stories from the road and the land, that he was led down the heart-worn and dusty path of writing country songs.
Matt released his self-titled debut solo EP in 2016. Those five songs showed a fully-formed songwriter with a voice that was steeped in ache and melody, writing songs that tumbled and swayed with both poise and abandon. The song ‘Neil Young’ would subsequently be included on the landmark 3CD compilation Take Me To Town which documented the Australian alt-country scene in 2018.
In 2019 Matt released his debut album Heartland, produced by multi ARIA and CMAA award winner Matt Fell. Based on a true story, it reached the #1 spot on the ARIA Australian Country album chart, debuted at #1 on the iTunes Country Album chart and has gone on to rack up over 140,000 streams worldwide.
"Matt Ward is that guy… wordsmith, tunesmith, and craftsman. A songwriter’s songwriter whose material speaks deeply and simultaneously of his journey and of ours.” - Matt Fell (8 x Golden Guitar winner)
As Matt explains, the songs on Heartland trace the hardships of an Australian farmer at the mercy of nature. “The song ‘Better Man’ is inspired by a true story I heard on the radio many years ago during the millennium drought – about a man who lost his farm and his family. This sets the scene for the remainder of the album, and the songs and album could be taken as his journey of loss, love and redemption.”
Featuring the singles ‘Better Man’, ‘Take Me Home’, ‘Back To The Country’ and ‘Annabelle’, the album was described by Australia’s #1 roots music magazine Rhythms as "world class” and “testament to his ability to blend popular and alt-country elements in convincingly heartfelt songs”.
Heartland led Matt to showcase for Sounds Australia at Nashville’s Americanafest, perform at Australian Music Week and Tamworth Country Music Festival and be announced as part of the first line-up of Americana artists for the 2020 Groundwater Country Music Festival.
In 2020 Matt followed up the success of Heartland with a run of new singles – the bluesy rhythm and country rock of ‘Tattoos, Trucks & Country Music’ and ‘Old Ground’, a sublime fiddle and pedal steel-assisted duet with Bonnie Montgomery (2016 Ameripolitan Outlaw Female and 2018-2020 Arkansas Americana Artist of the Year) that harks back to classic honky tonk and Western swing and which received high-rotation airplay on ABC Country radio across Australia.
Recorded in Texas at Yellow DOG studios, the songs show Matt’s desire to take his music to the source and drink from the musical well of some of America’s finest session players, in a studio where albums by Charlie Sexton, Kacey Musgraves, Colter Wall, Bonnie Raitt, Charley Crockett, Kris Kristofferson, and Rosie Flores have been recorded.
Those American adventures continue to see the light of day with his latest 2021 single ‘Lost and Found’ which reveals a thrilling new angle to Matt’s songwriting and sound, showcasing his versatility and the ability to poetically and sonically blend classic and contemporary musical styles. The song emphasises how wide and deep Matt’s influences run, from Willie Nelson, Dale Watson, Colter Wall and Robert Ellis, to Neil Young, Steve Earle and Paul Kelly. From the Adelaide Hills to West Texan dive bars, Matt is a man for all seasons.
"Matt‘s songs evoke the vastness and expanse of Australia while speaking with true heart… his music is a perfect blend of Australian country outlaw”
- Bonnie Montgomery
(2016 Ameripolitan Outlaw Female and 2018-2020 Arkansas Americana Artist of the Year)
“…everything that is good about Australian Country Music”
- Country Music Capital News