Scott Matthews review – engagingly thoughtful and classy singer-songwriter

The Social, London
Matthews returns after a three-year break with some elegant, quietly soulful vocal work to promote new album

Scott Matthews is launching his career for the second time. When he started out, eight years ago, the Wolverhampton singer-songwriter found himself acclaimed as the most exciting musician from the West Midlands since his admirer Robert Plant, with whom he recorded and toured; and his first single, Elusive, won an Ivor Novello award.

Things have since calmed down, but this year he has become the first British artist to be signed to the Nashville-based Thirty Tigers entertainment company, and though his new album Home Part 1 is not released until October, the promotion has already started.

Playing two back-to-back shows in this narrow and sweltering West End venue, he was an engagingly thoughtful and complex figure, with a quietly dry sense of humour and the ability to ease between different styles. Backed by the inventive cello-player Danny Keane, who at times managed to make his instrument sound like a pedal-steel guitar, Matthews started out playing muted electric guitar, then switched to acoustic, and changed guitars between almost every song. He was an impressive player, with an easy, understated finger-picking technique, but what makes him distinctive is his elegant, quietly soulful vocal work, with some songs delivered in a slurred style reminiscent of John Martyn.

He started both sets with Virginia and then Mona, two slow and delicate songs from the forthcoming album that showed off his often pained and introspective writing. But there was some variety. He strapped on a harmonica, which made a curious blend with the cello, for the drifting and tuneful The Outsider, and showed off his folk-blues roots by switching to 12-string guitar for a gutsy revival of Passing Stranger from 2006, before, of course, ending the night with Elusive. A few more upbeat songs would have helped, but Matthews is a classy and original performer.

The Castle, Wellingborough, 20 September. Box office: 01933 270 007. Then touring.


Robin Denselow

The GuardianTramp

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