Locals Only: Matt Munhall Trio

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Unwittingly, Matt Munhall was assembling a trilogy.

He didn't realize it back in 2003, when he released his first album, Over and Over Again. In those days, Munhall was smitten with a pretty young gal named Elizabeth. They met at Bishop Watterson and struck up a romance that lasted past graduation.

During downtime from playing piano professionally at Smith & Wollensky, Munhall would write songs inspired by their young love. Two years later, he was composing more of them for his sophomore release, Guinea Pigs on a Scaffold, when the couple split.

"We cut it off for good, we thought," Munhall explained. "Didn't speak for three years."

If Guinea Pigs was the sound of their relationship falling apart, Munhall's latest captures the essence of long-lost lovers finding each other all over again. He'll release the album, Three, with a special program at the newly renovated Lincoln Theatre this weekend.

Munhall had written much of the album already when Elizabeth reentered the picture. Many of the songs, "Hey Venus" among them, beckoned back the love of his life.

"She heard that song because Mike Harden wrote an article about me in The Dispatch, and she looked me up," Munhall said.

A year later, they're married with a kid on the way, and Munhall has even more music to show for it, from White Stripes-y acoustic blues screamer "My Baby Came Back" to the orchestral "Change," a work reminiscent of Paul McCartney and Andrew Bird.

Three reveals Munhall as the kind of pop songwriter you and your parents can agree on. He's classy in many senses of the word - polite and well-groomed, but also smart, sophisticated and capable of writing songs that bridge the generation gap.

Many pianists allow their instrument to dominate their songwriting, but Munhall's skill as an arranger comes to the fore spectacularly on the new album. Every sound gets its spotlight, from the screaming slide guitar on "Breakdown" to the whispering hi-hat on "Hey Venus."

Munhall has quite the album to promote, but he's trying to do most of it before September, when his first child is due. He's been playing regularly in New York and recently got his foot in the door with music royalties organization SESAC.

He also taped several episodes of the PBS series Piano Guy and plans to publish a book of sheet music later this year.

"I hope some kid 30 years from now is playing my songs in a piano bar," Munhall said.

On the home front, Munhall wants to top his 2005 release party at the King Arts Complex with Saturday's tilt at the Lincoln. His trio - Munhall on piano, Jack Knuttila on drums and Matt Paetsch on bass - will be backed by a string quartet, two horn players, two electric guitar players and even a conductor.

"There's a lot of musical ghosts there," Munhall said of Saturday's venue.

But the music echoing through the rafters Saturday will be decidedly alive, filled with the vigor of happy endings and new frontiers.

E-mail your local music news to Chris DeVille at cdeville@columbusalive.com

Matt Munhall Trio

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 18

Where: Lincoln Theatre, King-Lincoln

Web: mattmunhall.com