Cerys Matthews – review

Oran Mor, Glasgow

"When I was nine, I used to sing the blues in my bedroom in Swansea," says Cerys Matthews. "What did I know then?" Eleven years on from the official breakup of Catatonia, and five after her unexpected I'm a Celebrity appearance, Matthews certainly knows a lot more about the blues.

Partly, that's because she's done her homework. A passion for collecting traditional songs from all over the world and piecing together their origins means she has become, almost by accident, a folklorist: part Alan Lomax, part Nancy Drew. Matthews's real gift, though, is reanimating these relics with her distinctive voice while stomping a foot tambourine like her hero, Jessie Mae Hemphill.

The result is more lusty than dusty. "This is one of my favourite songs about leading a young girl astray," is her intro to Ca' the Yowes, about a roll in the plaid with a Scottish shepherd. Matthews's rambling chat, familiar from her Sunday morning BBC 6 Music show, is an appropriate frame for this two-hour solo set, which is rowdier than the genteel Cerys by Candlelight banner might suggest.

She sings Bachen Bach O Dincar, a Welsh song about a clattering tinker, floats a theory that Woody Guthrie invented Elvis, throws in some murder ballads and leads a sleighbell-slathered Christmas carol singalong. There are also dramatic readings of Robert Burns and Dylan Thomas, the latter enlivened by gong and vibraslap sound effects.

Ring of Fire is a suitably rousing finale with the audience invited to mouth-trumpet the familiar mariachi band part. But more affecting is the melancholy lilt of Chardonnay, the overlooked Hugh Cornwall song Matthews resurrected for her first solo album. She has found more nuance within it in the decade since, though her addition of a kazoo solo helps keep any blues at bay.

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Graeme Virtue

The GuardianTramp

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