Cerys Matthews - Never Said Goodbye
Once the Queen of Britpop, Cerys Matthews has completed her transformation from former hell raiser to serious songwriter on her second solo album. Now a mother of two and happily married, these experiences have obviously influenced her writing and have, like a fine wine once favoured by her, matured into something more palatable.
Compared to "Cockahoop", her debut solo offering, the country and folk influences have been toned down a little to more subtle hooks, sprinkled sparsely over proceedings. It's only really on the album closer "Elen", a beautiful duet with Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals, that a song could really be called a true "folk song".
Certainly the playing, production and songs are all more accomplished - from the opening track "Streets Of New York", which oozes a grandeur normally associated with the city itself, there's some production trickery in the background just mixing things up a little. This nicely distances it from the usual female vocalist crowd and is almost a deliberate attempt to remove some sheen from the album and specific songs in general. The one thing that truly distances this from the crowd is Cerys' voice; a fantastic instrument in it's own right, sometimes child-like, sometimes soaring, sometimes growling but never boring or predictable.
Some songs here do tend towards Radio 2 friendly territory though. "A Bird In The Hand" is a very gentle song with basic piano and guitar accompaniment and obvious choice for a single, though in the chorus there seems so be some sheen added to her vocals, adding a sugary coating they don't really need. However, "Oxygen" may begin as Dido-imitator with it's gentle electronica, but bursts into something altogether more fantastic, that voice building and growling from behind the slide guitar facade.
There's something joyous about this album. It may fall into easy listening territory in places, but it's an enjoyable Sunday morning record bursting with melodies, delicate instrumentation and, of course, that voice which makes it worth the listen alone.