Mat Kearney comes alive

‘Young Love’ is an album full of freshness, vigor, poppy melodies and complex orchestration — a musical adventure to tackle




If you go

What: Mat Kearney, in concert.

When: 8 p.m. Feb. 17.

Where: Roseland Theater, 8 N.W. Sixth Ave., Portland.

Cost: $20 through TicketsWest, 800-992-8499.

Mat Kearney experienced both highs and lows when recording his latest album, “Young Love.”

The worst came as he prepared to start writing and recording, when Nashville’s 2010 flood submerged many instruments and much of his gear.

“I had to replace a lot of things,” Kearney said in a recent phone interview. “Luckily a lot of my old, old guitars were in my house upstairs, so I didn’t lose my ’30s Martins or my old Guild and stuff.” But he needed to replace all the instruments he uses in his live shows.

The best came when he fell in love and married. The romance may have taken place outside the recording studio, but fans will hear its notes when Kearney performs in Portland on Feb. 17.

“Young Love” is an album that takes listeners through the journey of falling in love, he said. “There are a lot of these songs that are very fresh and very — this kind of young, butterflies-in-your-stomach experience.”

Love and marriage may have started with fluttering feelings, but they’ve also spurred Kearney to enter a reflective period of self examination. He’s re-living his past and thinking about his future, and that examination colors his newest songs, he said.

Usually precise and focused about his songwriting process, Kearney said he was more spontaneous as he composed the new album.

He did not even have a guitar in his hand when he started writing “Hey Mama,” about meeting his new wife, he said. “I was stomping and clapping and I was dancing around the room with this pen and pad, writing this literal story of meeting this woman. Something about that was really interesting to me, and it influenced the trajectory of the record.”

Not surprisingly, there’s a different groove to “Young Love” than Kearney’s first two nationally released CDs.

Those albums — “Nothing Left To Lose” (2006) and “City of Black & White” (2009) — brought comparisons to artists like John Mayer for the pop-folk sound and the singer-songwriter feel of many of the songs.

Rhythm to the front

On “Young Love,” though, Kearney pushes the rhythm to the front of his sound and also mixes more synthesizer and keyboard in with guitars on many of the songs, while retaining the poppy vocal melodies that have been at the center of his music all along.

The rhythms are especially pronounced on songs like “Sooner or Later,” “Chasing the Light” and “Ships in the Night” (with heavy electronic bass drum providing a big beat). In “Learning to Love Again” (one of only a pair of ballads on the album), Kearney dials down the beat, but even this song has a strong pulse.

The mix of instruments, drum programming and sampling has created challenges for Kearney when it comes to figuring out how to perform the new material live. But Kearney likes the approach he’s taking.

“It will be kind of like a mix of triggering samples and playing live,” he said. “We’re also figuring out the balance of samples. I look at bands like the Flaming Lips and Beck. … You can do some interesting stuff where instead of just feeling like you’re playing with a bunch of computers running, I love the idea of you’re actually kind of performing some of the samples live on stage while we’re playing them.”