What does it sound like?:
Scott Matthews arrived with a splash in 2006. His first single, Elusive, gathered radio plays and an Ivor Novello songwriting award. His songwriting and finger-picking guitar playing attracted well-known guests, such as Robert Plant and Danny Thompson, to his albums. He is commonly likened to John Martyn, Nick Drake and, even, Burt Jansch, but, somehow, his career hasn’t quite taken off. Here he is, on his sixth album, at a crossroads, with a first child on the way. Who can blame him for some honest introspection, an evaluation of where he is in life and where he is likely to be in the future? The Great Untold, recorded in his home studio and local rural churches, is intense and personal but also dreamy and full of hope.
The essential ingredients are his lead vocal, acoustic guitar and his own multi-tracked backing vocals. He sings in a spectral head voice that undulates gently to the vagaries of the melody. The guitar flows beautifully, intricately. The backing vocals are murmured and hushed. Additional effects are added to give each song character, a simple piano triplet, an ebow, harmonica or keyboard ripples and on track eight of ten, we hear the skins of a drum kit being stroked. If anything, most of these sounds are even more ephemeral. The Great Untold is an album that shimmers in silvers and greys, drawing the listener in to pay close attention.
A hypnotic consistency of sound can become dull without sufficient musical variation. The melodies on The Great Untold can be elusive but there are times when they strengthen and grip the listener. Silence, an attempt to ‘realign my wayward mind’, has a lovely hummable tune. Cinnamon, a song basking in a post-coital glow, is equally transporting. Lawless Stars features a delicious change in tone for the last third that would remain a pleasure even with a two minute extension. As The Day Passes picks up in pace, Matthews’s fingers moving much more urgently across his guitar strings and the closing Chapters conjures up the image of a weary traveller dancing by a camp fire blowing his harmonium.
Lyrically, as someone on the cusp of a dramatic, life-changing event, Matthews is caught in two minds, bemoaning the loss of his carefree nomadic-musician lifestyle yet looking forward to the joys new life can bring. He twists and turns, facing one way then the other within the ebbs and flows of the music. The poor soul really has no idea what is about to hit him. I wish him well.
What does it all *mean*?
The Great Untold is a detailed, serious album that demands patience and great powers of concentration from the listener. For such a gentle album it takes some effort to listen to properly. Beautiful, spectral and calm, there is a lot more going on than first meets the ear.
Goes well with…
Peace and quiet. Time to invest in repeated listens.
Might suit people who like…
This is undoubtedly Folk music. There will be Afterworders who will be engrossed by The Great Untold but others will find it soporific.