SCOTT MATTHEWS – The Great Untold (Shedio Records)

The Great UntoldFor a man so frequently brushed with greatness, singer-songwriter Scott Matthews does not quite yet seem to be a household name. Perhaps his sixth album, The Great Untold, will change that – it certainly has a broad, genre-defying appeal.

Matthews’ CV is impressive: a 2007 Ivor Novello award-winner for his song ‘Elusive’ (take that, Arctic Monkeys!), subsequently covered by Lianne La Havas; co-writer with Robert Plant of the song ‘12 Harps’ (from the Elsewhere album), and tour support for artists like Plant and Alison Krauss, Foo Fighters, Rufus Wainwright and Bert Jansch (to whom his guitar style has been favourably compared). Any musician could consider these career-defining achievements, but Matthews seems far from content to rest on past successes. As the waltzing steely guitar and harmonica of ‘Chapters’ signs off in contemplative mood, Matthews reassures himself/us that “there’s always a song inside”.

Musically and lyrically, he’s often likened to Nick Drake or Jeff Buckley, with good reason. Melodically sure-footed, deploying many switchback twists and turns, his lyrics certainly tend to navigate the more introspective and downbeat paths of life. The title track reveals anxiety at the impending birth of his child, referenced again in the line “I’m safe in the womb, like a child” from ‘Lawless Stars’ – here’s a man with things on his mind.

Elsewhere, there are poignant vignettes of lives observed, such as the Spanish-flavour guitar and lonely piano of ‘As The Day Passes’, with its tale of “a shrine to her boy who’ll be home one day”. Lonely desperation colours ‘Song To A Wallflower’ with its bleak lyric “he’s highly flammable, you dare not strike a single match tonight”.

Matthews has stripped back his sound compared to earlier albums but even with fewer instruments on board, the production remains lushly – perhaps too much so – polished. Built on guitar, vocals, occasional piano and a light touch of muted percussion, it’s still a tight, intricate, multi-layered construct.

His guitar style is light and crystalline, his accompanying voice rich and controlled, gliding easily into its upper registers to deliver these extremely well-crafted songs. The multi-tracked accompaniments are subtle and suit the songs but, across this very fine album overall, the tonal variation could perhaps have been slightly more emphatic.

Catch Scott Matthews’ headline tour now, and also as support to Madeleine Peyroux’s silky tones on the summer leg of her UK tour.

Su O’Brien

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