When Catatonia split in 2001 amidst rehab, relationship breakdowns and the fin de siecle feeling that swamped Britpop, anyone who’d heard their lead singer’s incredibly distinctive voice must have been aware that they’d not heard the last of it. Cerys Matthews could do things with her voice that rendered description ineffectual and a trite pointless. You had to hear it.
To the delight of her former band’s fans and aficionados of a distinctive voice box alike, Cerys is back with Cockahoop, her debut solo record recorded in the environs of Nashville. And from the choice of opening track Chardonnay, Cerys doesn’t shy away from her past but embraces it and turns it into a positive, rough-hewn thing to put a smile on the face of even the hardest cynic. Hers is a distinctive sound that’s far from country and Catatonia.
The whole vibe of Cockahoop is formed from a freeform decision to use self-penned numbers like Only A Fool together with a slew of folksy cover versions – like Chardonnay, which hadn’t even been recorded before Cerys dusted it down. Almost every instrument on the album is acoustic and the production is basic, giving a “live” feel of musicians jamming in a studio and producing little gems every now and again.
A laconic vein threads through the record, evidenced especially in La Bague and the captivating Caught In The Middle. They jaunt along, rendering all resistance on the part of the listener futile as they cuddle and console and commiserate on a whole plethora of life’s weighty troubles. It’s like Cerys wanted music to feel better by, so decided to make some.
Now settled down with partner and offspring, Wales’s wild woman has lost none of her quirkyness and her voice is in fine fettle. True, Cockahoop hedges its bets on her abilities as a songwriter by including so many covers, but none of them sound out of place or outstay their welcome. And if the whole record comes as a surprise to anyone, at least it’s a pleasant one. When she feels confident enough next time to offer more of her own material, a ready-made audience will be watching and listening.