For 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.
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Scott Matthews’ new record, The Great Untold, deserves to be a career defining one. The sixth studio album by the Ivor Novello Award-winning singer-songwriter (Best Song Musically & Lyrically for ‘Elusive) is a master class in honesty, instinct and reflection. A largely acoustic recording, Matthews’ new record features sparse production after being recorded over a productive winter at home. His ten-song cycle is the sound of a man now entirely comfortable in his own skin, putting his neck on the line with a collection of quietly extraordinary songs.
The ghosts of Paul Simon, Ron Sexsmith, Tim Buckley, Nick Drake and John Martyn loom large on a sixth record that revels in its stripped-back nature to show what an exceptionally strong songwriter Matthews really is. The absence of multi-layered instrumentation on The Great Untold, however, should not infer that it lacks depth. The richness in Matthews’ new work comes from the intricacy of his guitar work, influenced by the likes of Bert Jansch and Mark Kozelek, whilst showcasing again an otherworldly singing voice that betrays an everyman inflection and down-to-earth persona.
In many ways, The Great Untold is the start of a new era for Matthews. Since his debut album, Passing Stranger, in 2006, the Wolverhampton-born artist has further refined his craft. Writing deft and sensitive songs during a trajectory that began with the ethereal ‘Elusive’, The Great Untold marks a new beginning on his own terms. The first great arc of his career was completed with his Home duology; a pair of records that reflected on his journey thus far. The Great Untold is the sound of that man moving on. Matthews is recently married, soon-to-experience fatherhood and has new hopes and fears, new stories to tell.
“After Home Part 2 was finished, I was looking to move forward by marrying harmony with my experiences since the last record. The plan to write an acoustic record has always been there. And finally the time is right to do that.”
Matthews has tested himself as a songwriter. He started as a soloist and has gone full circle, again ready to fly alone. It opens new possibilities, a different type of challenge.
“It takes me out of my comfort zone and has made me test myself. I’ve largely pared it down to guitar and vocals. At the beginning, there was nobody else. It’s time to surprise myself. It’s time to go back to my own world.”
Lyrically, The Great Untold is a work with poetic intent.
“It’s a collection of songs that lots of people will hopefully relate to. Naturally, my starting points are from a personal perspective but most times I have to broaden the idea so it’s not so insular as a piece of music. It can be a challenge but I’m very proud of where I’ve ventured to and there’s been a lot of soul searching woven into these songs that I hope people will appreciate. When I’m writing, I’m almost hearing voices from The Masters and thinking: ‘Would they approve?’”
The point is to make a connection.
“I want to move somebody with the power of moods and music.” It is in the right hands. And that’s an opposite description for The Great Untold. It is a record written by a man at the peak of his powers – ‘As The Day Passes’, ‘Something Real’, ‘Song To A Wallflower’ and the stunning ‘Cinnamon’ are amongst the finest in his songbook – and by a musician able to channel great beauty in songs that reveal the most human of truths.
The first, is that WAY TO BLUE – THE SONGS OF NICK DRAKE is released on Navigator Records, April 15, 2013.
The concet features Teddy Thompson, Vashti Bunyan, Green Gartside, Robyn Hitchcock, Lisa Hannigan, Scott Matthews, Krystle Warren, Danny Thompson and many more and was recorded live in London and Melbourne.
“Every week, somewhere in the world, singers gather in clubs and halls to sing the songs of Nick Drake. It is sobering to think that more people now hear his songs in a month than ever heard them in his lifetime.” – Joe Boyd
Undoubtedly one of the most influential English singer-songwriters of the last 50 years, Nick Drake found little mainstream success during his lifetime; however, since his untimely death at the age of 26, his fragile acoustic, autumnal music has touched the hearts of millions of people.
Over the years since Drake’s death, his original producer Joe Boyd has explored the possibility of producing an album in tribute to his songwriting. But despite many well-known artists wishing to participate, he always resisted, because it seemed the only practical way to accomplish it would be for each artist to supply a track recorded separately, with their own chosen musicians.
Boyd felt that the only way to avoid the pitfalls of the typical Tribute Album would be to have everyone together for a week in a rural studio, backing each other with harmonies and guitar parts, creating an organic whole of an album. By performing Way To Blue fifteen times over the course of four years, he has accomplished something resembling his original dream.
The songs have been honed and shaped over the course of time, and the spirit of togetherness among the Way To Blue company has proved inspiring to all participants.
The recordings on this new CD are the edited highlights of concerts in London and Melbourne; the interpretations provide evidence, if such evidence was ever needed, of the timeless depth of Nick Drake’s qualities as a songwriter. The result is an album with the quality of a studio production and the spontaneity of a live performance.
Writing in the album sleeve notes, Joe says,
“Selecting singers has been one of the most rewarding parts of this exercise. One criterion was that none of them should sound like Nick.Vashti Bunyan is the one singer who actually knew Nick. I tried to get them to write songs together, but should have known that two such self-contained people would have trouble provoking one another into a collaboration. Since that time, the arc of Vashti’s career has been almost as remarkable as Nick’s, with the gratifying difference that she has survived to enjoy the late (but not too late) adulation of a generation of singers, songwriters and fans.
Robyn Hitchcock was too young to know Nick, but not by much. He grew up, he says, “with his nose pressed up against the glass of the Sixties” and has carved out a brilliant career, bringing to his own songs and his interpretations of Dylan, Syd Barrett, the Incredible String Band and Nick Drake a genuinely original evocation of the mad spirit of those years.
Shortly after the Birmingham Town Hall show, as I was preparing a concert of Incredible String Band songs at the Barbican, I learned that Green Gartside, whose Scritti Politti recordings I had loved in the ‘80s, wanted to come and ‘play some back-up guitar or sing harmony’. I asked him whether he was equally fond of Nick Drake. You can hear the response in his performance of “Fruit Tree” on this cd.
Lisa Hannigan is a magnetic and melodic singer with clever, thoughtful songs. I had but to mention Nick to her and she was on the team. Her wild take on “Black Eyed Dog” brought down the house the first night and has done so ever since.
Scott Matthews, a Midlands singer-songwriter who went from small clubs in Wolverhampton to earn an Ivor Novello Award, sell 80,000 copies of his debut cd and duet and tour with Robert Plant. The passion and power of his version of “Place To Be” has all the more impact for the fact that it sneaks up on you.
Krystle Warren is an African-American woman with a powerful voice and impeccable taste who loved Nick and wanted to sing “Time Has Told Me”. I saw in her the realization of a dream I had from the time I first heard Nick’s demo of the song and was convinced it should be Roberta Flack’s follow-up to “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”.
Teddy Thompson is the talented son of my old friends and colleagues Richard and Linda Thompson. Teddy has his mother’s exquisite phrasing and sense of humour and his father’s intensity. Teddy’s seemingly effortless rendering of “Riverman” became one of Way To Blue’s highlights.
When we received an offer to tour Australia, we decided to bring six singers with us and add two locals. The male choice of Shane Nicholson was easy – he has become one of Australia’s favourite singers, winning award after award. Shane slotted easily into the show and delivered the impeccable “Poor Boy” you hear on the cd.
The female voice proved more difficult until I discovered the mesmorizing singing of Australian Zoe Rendell who with Steve Hassett, comprises the duo Luluc. The lineup was complete.
From his characteristic entry at the start of the second verse on “Things Behind The Sun”, many will recognize the “Danny Thompson feel” underpinning Way To Blue. A jazzer, he has lent his skills to dozens of my productions and hundreds of albums by artists across the pop, folk and jazz fields. Nick loved Danny, both for his playing and for the way he teased and cajoled him, never letting him retreat into his shell, drawing laughter from him whenever they met.
Nick was never a folkie and some from that world have been uncomfortable with his privileged education and accent. Yet Neil MacColl, son of that founding anchor of British folk, Ewan MacColl, is the most supremely accomplished virtuoso of the impossibly complex Drake guitar parts. Which needn’t be that much of a surprise – his mother Peggy Seeger is a banjo and piano virtuoso who can startle the uninformed by playing brilliant renditions of Debussy and Scriabin!
Kate St John insisted on Zoe Rahman for the piano chair. Zoe has been a revelation. She is a jazz player, but her own albums deftly weave in the music of her Bangladeshi heritage; making the leap to the very English art-song of Nick Drake seems just another effortless step accomplished with the fluency of a virtuoso devoid of any hint of jazz cliché.
Guitarist Leo Abrahams warmed my World Music heart by adding the Ukrainian bandura to his adventurous use of effects. When he was unable to make the Australian tour, Steve Jones proved a more than able deputy. He shares with Leo a background of working with Brian Eno and composing film scores.
Also bringing World Music chops to the party is drummer Martyn Barker, who performs with the Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara duo as well as Billy Bragg and Beth Gibbons.
Each concert featured a section of seven string players. The personnel have altered with each tour, but first violins Oli Langford and Jules Singleton have provided brilliant leadership and all the British, Italian and Australian players have given us wonderful energy and have clearly loved playing Robert Kirby’s and Kate St John’s arrangements.
The sadness of honouring a poet who died so young was compounded when Robert Kirby passed away as we were preparing for the first Way To Blue tour. Robert was a classmate of Nick’s at Cambridge; the musical context of Nick’s first two albums is that of a collaboration between two friends. He took Nick’s music on its own elegant terms and created a body of work that has lasted far past both his and Nick’s life spans.
It would be impossible to imagine Way To Blue without Kate St John. Her impeccable taste on accordion and cor anglais combine with her arrangements and direction to provide the glue that holds this diverse project so sweetly together.”
The second piece of news is that the NICK DRAKE – BRYTER LAYTER – REMASTERED AND BOXED VINYL EDITION is OUT 29TH APRIL 2013 ON UNIVERSAL MUSIC CATALOGUE
Continuing the ReDISCovered boxed vinyl series of Nick Drake’s albums, Island Records presents his second album BRYTER LAYTER in a format similar to that used for the release of Pink Moon in 2012.
The album itself is a near exact replica of the original 1970 release, pressed on heavyweight audiophile vinyl, and remastered at Abbey Road from master tapes by the album’s original engineer John Wood. Although the first generation master tapes were found to be unusable, Wood had made a safety copy of the album in 1970 and it is from this that the new album has been struck.
The vinyl comes in an Island card inner bag in a single pocket textured sleeve just as the original release would have done. In addition it is housed in a box containing a copy of the original shop poster, a smaller ‘Live’ poster/brochure and a reprint of Nick’s handwritten set list together with reproductions of the master tape reel and tape box lids.
The album comes with a selection of downloadable electronic formats, including either high-resolution files, the usual MP3 files or unique Dubbed-From-Disc files for that authentic play-back experience.
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Kristy Gallacher is a singer/songwriter from Coventry. I was impressed with her new video of a song called ‘Fending off the Frost’ and thought I would share it with you below…
Kristy signed to the independent record label, Broken Player Records (www.brokenplayerrecords.com) in 2008 and each release since have been on the label. Kristy regularly performs on the acoustic circuit to sell out audiences across the UK and has supported Scott Matthews, Glenn Tilbrook (Squeeze), Ed Sheeran, I Am Kloot’s John Bramwell, Miles and Erica (Wonderstuff) Mark Morriss (Bluetones), Nerina Pallot, Polly Paulusma and Nizlopi.
In May 2010 Kristy won the LG Arena’s singer/songwriter competition and played before Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood and John Mayer on separate nights at the LG Arena in Birmingham. Subsequent to the competition win, Kristy was invited back to the LG Arena’s Forum live to play before Paul Weller. The title track of Kristy’s 2008 debut album ‘Emotional Gun’ has been selected for the British Library Project which achieves significant new music. In 2009 Kristy’s first live CD was recorded (by Nova Music) at the historic Troubadour, Earls Court, London. Kristy has formal musical training with a degree in Music Composition gained at Coventry University.