Provogue [Release date 17.02.14]
‘Far As I Can See’ could be the breakthrough album for Matt Schofield, a major Brit blues talent who has teetered on the brink of success for some time. This is an album that neatly balances Matt’s compositional input with his exquisite guitar playing and some sparkling band interplay.
Matt opens with a confident tone and some mellifluous phrasing on the impressive ‘Far Away’ which sets the standard for a mature album. There’s a hint of Ten After’s Joe Gooch with a nasal vocal, an uplifting hook, some bubbly guitar work and a melodic sweep, on a track that heads for the fade far too soon. This song would have been worthy of a bonus track radio edit.
‘Clean Break’ goes back to the organ-led trio format, as Jonny Henderson fills the track with some enveloping B3, while Matt adds strong rhythmic support before a resonant, clean toned, stinging solo with a decent vocal on a lovely jammed out end-piece.
The band strikes a delicate tension between the essential song structures and spontaneous ensemble playing on 11 tracks that flow from beginning to end. ‘Getaway’ for example, smoulders with intent, but struggles to stir the soul until it eventually ignites with a weaving solo resolution. It’s an exercise in disciplined playing and is something you might find on a Warren Haynes record.
The Memphis soul of the Jackson/Mathews penned ‘Breaking Up Somebody’s Home’ (misspelt here on track listings) feels like an attempt to redress the balance of the preceding track, with the addition of a horn arrangement and Matt’s fine solo, while ‘The Day You Left’ is a slow blues on which his guitar dynamics take centre stage. It’s a brave track at the core of an uncompromising album, which suggests that if this is an inexorable push to the next level, Matt is doing so on his own terms. He leans into the song with feel and restraint on an intuitive arrangement.
Both ‘Oakville Shuffle’ and the jazzy ‘Everything’ will undoubtedly fit into his live set effortlessly and Aaron Neville’s ‘Yellow Moon’ is an inspired choice that brings variation and a lilting groove to an organic sounding album.
There’s an interesting contrast between the funky, snappy horns and Albert Collins feel of ‘Hindsight’ – well suited to Matt’s flighty style – and the Texas influenced rocking of ‘Tell Me Some Lies’, on which he lets his guitar do his talking for him.
And just when you think he’s balanced everything out on a jazzy, funk influenced blues album, he throws in an unexpected curve ball, with a closing psychedelic tinged blues called ‘Red Dragon’.
Johnny Henderson conjures up echoes of Iron Butterfly’s Doug Ingle and Matt digs deep for a soulful vocal on a Hendrix influenced outing. It’s an expansive jammed out finish wholly in keeping with a band that you feel could stretch out at any moment on a poised album. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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