Matt Heusel has been a hard-working musician in the Upper Ohio Valley for the past two decades, but only now does he feel as if he has produced his finest work.
Heusel, the bandleader of “The Two Bridges,” will stage a CD release concert at River City Restaurant in downtown Wheeling. Local musician and Heusel’s best friend, Adrian Niles, will open the show at 10 p.m., and then “The Two Bridges” will introduce the audience to the new album, “Appalachian Soul.”
“I have been a part of a lot of different bands over the years, and I’ve had a lot of fun doing it,” he said. “But I wanted to get to the point to where I was writing about what inspired me without having to worry whether or not it fit in some kind of specific genre.
“Plus, I really wanted to get that pedal steel sound into a rock context because I think it’s very soulful,” he said. “I just love the textures to it, and I can tell the people who hear it do, too.”
The Two Bridges and “Appalachian Soul” are what Heusel wished for and that’s a band and a sound that represents the region in which he was raised. A native of East Ohio and a graduate of St. John Central and Wheeling Jesuit University, Heusel has consistently concentrated on composing and performing original music.
“One day I was driving over the I-470 Bridge, and I looked up at Wheeling, and I saw the Wheeling Suspension Bridge and the Fort Henry Bridge and the name of the band just came to me,” he said. “And this record totally represents our Valley and our lives here.
“And I didn’t want any B.S. songs on this record,” he said. “They are straight-forward, honest tunes that come from down deep. Every song tells a different story about our lives here in the Valley.”
Heusel explained each of the nine tunes featured on “Appalachian Soul.”
“These Trouble Days”
“The first song is about the struggles of working your tail off and about the struggles of not seeing good things happen with your passions and your endeavors,” Heusel explained. “Sometimes we feel all beat down because of how hard we work at life in general.
“This song is about the good and about the bad because there’s a lot of good in life if you are living it the right way,” he said. “Just thinking about that brought out this song.”
“Make a Little Something”
“I know I am happiest when I am creating something,” Heusel said. “That’s what motivates because that’s what I love to do, and that’s what this tune is all about.
“It also about the people who hear the tunes. The icing on the cake in my book is when we are playing our music to an audience packed with people who care about the music,” Heusel admitted. “Creating a new tune, playing it for people who are digging it, and then recording it — there’s nothing better.”
“I’ve had that tune for a long time,” he said. “I wrote it a lot of years ago, but I brought it out again to see what this band could do with it. And what they did convinced me that it belonged on this record.
“It’s got that gypsy-wow factor in there, and I really dig that,” Heusel continued. “When we play that song, we’re leaving it all out there for the listener. Nothing is held back.”
“This song is about the ‘big frack’ – the fracking industry,” he explained. “It’s got that bluegrass feel to it, and those are my roots thanks to Lauren Porter.
“I am concerned about the fracking industry, and I am concerned with everything that makes this area as beautiful as it is,” Heusel said. “I don’t want to see those things change, but some of it already is. My favorite, all-time cruise is to drive out the creek, but now there are pipes all over the place and these massive trucks that you have to worry about. That’s not how it was when I was growing up in this Valley.”
“I love this song because it’s about coming of age in Bellaire, Ohio,” Heusel said. “This is song is all about going to see a band like ‘Screamer’ at C.O.’s Lounge in Bellaire.
“One of my favorite things to do back in those days was going out to see a good rock-n-roll band somewhere in the Valley whether they were playing in Ohio or West Virginia, and a lot of those clubs were in or around all these dirty alleys. Those were some great days.”
“We all live it, day after day, so I wrote a song about it,” he said. “It’s about being young and growing older and growing wiser, and in this song I celebrate growing older because of what age gives you.
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“I think we all need to take a look into the mirror from time to time and be honest about what you see,” Heusel continued. “And I’m a workingman with three kids and a wonderful wife. That’s what it’s all about.”
“What this song is about is taking our songs on the road so they can be heard,” Heusel said. “We love playing here in the Valley, but we also think it’s important to keep rolling on and getting the music out to as many people as we can.
“And that’s what we plan to do, too. We’ve got a gig coming up in Erie, Pa., and we have plans to play in the Charleston and Columbus areas, too,” he said. “I believe we’ve got some really good songs, so why not try to get those out there as much as possible?”
“We’re always searching, right?” Heusel wondered aloud. “I think we’re always searching for something. We may not know what it is exactly, but we’re always looking for it.
“I love this tune, and it’s really the first one I wrote for this record,” he said. “That’s what this record is all about, really, because this is what I was searching for, and I finally figured it out.”
“There’s a great story behind this song,” Heusel said. “We took a road trip to the Bronx last year, and on the way I was thinking of lyrics, and my wife would type them into her phone. They were just phrases about what we were seeing along the way.
“When we returned home, I ran into the house despite being exhausted from the drive,” he continued. “I sat down, and with all of my notes, I bet I wrote this song in about five minutes. I love adventures like that, and this is a song about taking adventures.”
He believes “Appalachian Soul” is his best work to date, but Heusel has no plans to stop searching for what may be next. In fact, he insisted his next record will be better than this one.
“I was very inspired when I wrote these songs; I can tell you that,” the musician said. “Every single song comes from a different inspiration, and I felt like I was more of a wordsmith for this record than I have been before. I have always been very purposeful with my lyrics, but this one just seemed like I was on a higher level than before.
“I wanted to note my guys that made this recording: John Kirchner, from Mounsdville, rock and roll guitar and now pedal steel; bassist and vocalist Scotty Harkness from Wheeling; Warwood’s Clifton “Cliftone” Landis on lead guitar, Joshua Wear, one of the most dynamic percussionists around; and Alexander Peck, who has such a great feel on the drums
“But yeah, I do think the next record will be better than this one, and I’ve already written two new killer tunes for the next one,” Heusel continued. “I’ve always believed that if there is a light behind the work that it’ll be better, and ‘Appalachian Soul’ and the one I am working on now definitely has that quality about it.”