In 2018, Matthew McNeal released his sophomore LP, Good Luck, which boasts an album cover of the artist staring out on the horizon while sitting on a sandy beach. It's a peaceful scene, one brought to life throughout the record's nine tracks, perhaps most memorably on "Tightrope" when he sings, "If you don't like the view, it's gonna be okay / We'll all go flying when the tightrope breaks / We all fall together / We're all together."

Sadly, the sort of peace and assurance that McNeal sings about on the record was ripped away from him over the course of that year: A month before Good Luck hit the streets, when he should have been celebrating his birthday, McNeal had to make the inconceivable decision to pull his father off of life support and say goodbye to him.

Not ready to let his loss keep him from living out his life's calling as a musician and songwriter, McNeal took the year to mourn and honor his dad by touring and even writing a few new songs. Those tracks are the foundation for his follow-up record, the aptly titled Good Grief.

The grief McNeal faced not only manifested itself in the loss of his dad, but also in the loss of his home. Due to a fire, the artist lost nearly every single one of his possessions, and the album he was beginning to create had to be shelved so that he could attempt to get his life back in order.

Almost unbelievably, McNeal's grief continued: Thirteen days after his house burned down, he was in a car accident. The silver lining is that he faced only minor injuries, so he hit the road to continue touring, bringing a sense of consistency and joy to his turbulent life; however, when McNeal returned home, he discovered that he was a victim of identity theft.

Any one of these scenarios would be enough to completely sidetrack someone, but for whatever reason, McNeal felt the courage and drive to continue writing, recording and sharing his music with everyone who would listen. That courage and drive culminated in the completion of Good Grief, an effort that refuses to ignore the pain McNeal has experienced, but also refuses to dwell on it.

The man on the album cover is the same as the one on the Good Luck cover, but his landscape has changed. No longer sitting on a beach and staring off in the distance, McNeal is now walking in the rugged outdoors, moving to whatever pain or pleasure life has in store for him next.

In anticipation of Good Grief's release, McNeal is partnering with The Boot to share a sneak preview of the album with the brand-new track, "I Think It's Real." Readers can hear it below.

""I Think It's Real" is one of several songs on the album that are about the loss of my dad and the growth it would eventually bring me," McNeal tells The Boot. The track has a bright, summery feel to it, helping to highlight the artist's personal maturation over the last two years, but that's not to say it's not deeply tragic in its reflection. "He passed, out of the blue ... he was here and gone within the matter of two days, passing on my 25th birthday."

As McNeal sings, "I hope the world keeps turning / So I can see this through / I just don't know what it's like to live a life / If it's not filled with you," listeners are invited not to simply experience his story, but to grieve and lament their own.

"[The song] is about the period of recovery and discovery that I underwent after losing him," the singer says, "learning about myself as I learned more about him. This song is the album opener, and I think it really sets the tone for an album that cycles through all the feelings you experience through love and loss."

Focusing on so much more than just loss, Good Grief is a gorgeous, Americana-infused record full of hope and light. "It's about the deep personal growth that happens in the midst of it all," McNeal concludes.

Considering the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic facing the world right now, it's impossible to not, in some way, connect with McNeal's unforgettable lyrics in "I Think It's Real."

"Who am I kidding? / I'm confused by the way that I'm feeling," McNeal ends the track, singing with his smooth, Texas-bred voice. "But whatever it is that I feel / I think it's real / Oh, I think it's real."

Though all of McNeal's tour dates have been canceled due to COVID-19, he plans to release and celebrate Good Grief on schedule on April 3. Fans can find details on the album and everything happening in McNeal's world on his official website.

Listen to Matthew McNeal's "I Think It's Real"

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