Former Catatonia chanteuse Cerys Matthews’ second album continues to re-establish her as a leading light of the nu-folk scene, this time winning over the organic audiences who may consider her too plugged in by hanging on dearly to a near-obsession with the weather.
Take as an example a typical line from the husky-whispered recent single Open Roads: “I remember the driving rain/soaked to the skin these were perfect days/and I remember it all” – and that’s before you even get to tracks such as The Endless Rain and Morning Sunshine which wear their hearts on their (cagoule) sleeves. Whereas Dolly Parton and other lasses from Matthews’ adopted home of Nashville have charmed their audiences with sad songs of bourbon-soaked unfaithful husbands, Cerys knows it’s being caught without your brolly that will help her connect with and stay connected to her British audience.
From opening track Streets Of New York, it’s raining, and through virtually everything that comes after, it’s mostly still raining, occasionally interspersed with a tiny bit of sunlight that conjures up memories of a ruined day on the Black Mountains as much as any singer-songwriter with a guitar and Cuban heels has ever referenced a lifetime of lost hope and despair.
In between you’ll find textbook Cerys – husky little girl vocals over lush melodies and self-knowing lyrics – there are darker, jazz-club lounge songs such as The Endless Rain and gentle acoustic numbers such as final track Elen as well as many songs that haven’t drifted too far Nashville-ward from the power pop on which she made her name. Ruby in particular stomps along with pop electronics that would never dare show their face at the Cambridge Folk Festival she recently headlined.
In fact, what comes across most strongly is how well Matthews has managed to blend the kind of playful leftfield pop on which she made her name with the best musical heritage of her new Nashville home, used to best effect in the traditional Grand Ole Opry stylings and sensibilities of What Kind Of Man.
Overall, the album has less of a trad country feel than her previous solo effort Cockahoop. It’s easier to hear echoes of the previous lives in which she sang paeans to the X-Files and duetted with Tom Jones but at the same time she’s weaving these into a new sense of maturity, coming across as supremely confident in what she’s doing.
There’s a salsa tinge to some tracks (the intro to Streets Of New York, for example, or Oxygen) while others such as The Endless Rain and Blue Light Alarm creep along darkly, slithering under your skin with their brushed percussion, low piano scales and, in the case of the latter, gothic music box melody.
In perfect contrast to this is Cerys at her most shiny, delivering Monkees melodies on Morning Sunshine, although ironically it’s here you’ll find the darkest lyrics – “I’d like to see you crawling from the shadows” – using the idea of the sunshine to remind us that it’s always darkest before the dawn.
All in all, it’s near-perfect British folk-pop: dark and sultry with black clouds and sunshine around the corner in equal measure.