The year was 1987. Reagan was in the White House, Bill Cosby was the king of Thursday nights, Dirty Dancing was selling out theaters. And on stereos across America, singer-songwriters like Bryan Adams, Richard Marx, and Kenny Loggins were rocking the airwaves with hits that would go on to do the near impossible: cater to popular demand and stand the test of time.
It was 1987, and Matt Wertz was an eight-year-old kid in Liberty, Missouri. He went to Louis and Clark Elementary, he took piano once a week from his Nana, he rode shotgun in his mom’s Oldsmobile station wagon. And on those lucky afternoons when he could tune in to Casey’s Top 40, Wertz listened to songs that would become the soundtrack of an era – Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer,” Steve Winwood’s “The Finer Things,” Lionel Richie, Peter Cetera – classics set to drum machine and Stratocaster.
He didn’t know it then, but those radio waves were settling into Wertz’s memory and slow-curing his own songwriter sensibility. And after a decade of commercial success, seven studio albums and thousands of miles touring, they were the songs Matt found himself going back to over and over again – “Footloose,” “Mandolin Rain,” “Hold on to the Nights” – music that was flat-out fun to listen to.
Those hours of rediscovery inspired Matt Wertz to create his newest and most ambitious project to date, Heatwave. What began with a homemade drum groove on his Nashville front porch has sprung into a distinct, varied ten-song record that both pays homage to the lush, accessible sounds characteristic of that era and evidence the breadth of artistic reach Wertz has come to embody at this point in his career.
“Get to You,” the opening track on Heatwave, was written during the initial porch session with producer Brandon Hood, confidently dipping its toes in the electric blue waters of the 80s. The drum groove brings to mind the classic loop beats of that era and immediately establishes the album’s fluid, dynamic tone. With “Whenever You Love Somebody,” Wertz delivers the aching, honest lyrics his fans have come to expect, this time setting them against a backdrop of resonant beats and velvety guitars.
In addition to Wertz’s interpretation of his favorite 80s influences, Heatwave also boasts tracks that feature his wide-ranging scope as a songwriter. Between working independently and on major labels like Universal Republic and Nettwerk Records, Wertz has become a veteran musician who deftly employed his years of songwriting mastery to this latest offering. After 12 years based in Nashville, co-writing with the best in the business, Wertz’s own insights manifest themselves best on the introspective tracks “What I Know Right Now” and “Thing About Freedom.”
“What I Know Right Now” explores a contemporary folk blend of warm harmonies and brushed snare, and “Thing About Freedom” gently draws the album to a close with pensive lines and a melancholy steel guitar.
Heatwave bridges a lifetime of musical history. Wertz uses the melodies of his Missouri childhood as a springboard into an exciting new realm of modern musical possibilities, interpreting his influences in a striking, singular way. As Wertz himself would say, these are the songs he’d want stuck in his head. And that’s a good thing for everyone.