Scott Matthews certainly can play a guitar. His slide style on this, his debut album, lends itself as a hook on which to hang songs that emanate from a bluesy base but end up, thanks to Matthews’ voice, somewhere closer to the uptempo end of the Jeff Buckley spectrum.
Not to be confused with Shortbus soundtrack star Scott Matthew, a New York City transplant from Australia, Matthews is a Wolverhampton-born singer-songwriter whose debut record was released by a label set up for the purpose by a music teacher at his school. Now Island have picked it up, and it’s easy to understand what the major saw in it.
It’s impossible to ignore the Buckley-worshipping vocals, in common most obviously with Coldplay‘s Chris Martin, that suggest Matthews ought to have a large audience of melodic appreciators just waiting for his dulcet tones. They sing sometimes mumbled lyrics that tell urban tales in the abstract. But throughout the record it’s the guitar work that stands out most, pointing to comparisons with that other oft-cited troubador, Nick Drake.
Despite hints at the possibility of a fuller sound, with tabla-infused tracks and some variation in production, some of which sounds tacked on, most of the album is a stripped-down affair of guitar and voice, stark and alone. Debut single Elusive has a memorable chorus purpled by reverb and some knowingly atmospheric instrumental and vocal effects circling the central, dream-awake tale of that old chestnut, lost love. Earth To Calm mines the lullaby seam familiar to Martin and Thom Yorke in their respective bands’ half-throttle, inward-looking moments.
At times it can seem as though rhythm sections are nowhere to be heard. In fact, several tracks have apologetic drums and the tabla makes itself known as a highlight of the record. Probably the most upbeat moment is second single Dream Song, with showmanly guitar work and backing vocals fleshing out the eastern atmospherics brought in by tabla and a string section. It’s a chugger, a drivetime number and quite a contrast to Elusive.
At 50 minutes in length the album isn’t as long as 17 tracks might suggest, and at its end it has done enough to merit repeated listens. And Passing Stranger is good for a few.