Classing himself as an Alternative Blues Rock artist Matt Edwards has just released his third album and, unlike the first, it is a full (3-piece) band which regale us across the 10 original tracks of Backward Roots. Oxfordshire based Edwards always aims to make the song the focus, rather than the message being lost in over instrumentation. As a self-taught guitar player, he has managed to avoid too many ‘sounds like…’ comparisons and, across this album at least, concentrates on a solid blues/rock template, which inevitably reflects his influences. Listening to this latest album, I would guess those to be the late 60s and early 70s blues-rock, with hints of Zep, Trower, Gallagher and Peter Green-era Mac. Although a trio, the sound is full, with Dixon (no relation!) and Newman giving the sound a reinforced concrete backing without overpowering. The production is crystal clear and so, as is my wont, I can indulge in listening to each instrument in semi-isolation to truly appreciate and dissect each song. I find this a vital aid to identifying the kind of artist(s), which stand out from the crowd; there are a lot of skilled musicians out there who, for various reasons, fail to differentiate. Thankfully with Edwards, there is sufficient variation to warrant repeated listens.
The album opens with Aim High, a mid-paced electric blues with a nice picked intro and a solo, which cleverly echoes the central melody. Edwards’ voice is, I suppose, an acquired taste but it actually grows on you after repeated listens: think along the lines of Joe Walsh without the American accent and Joe’s tendency to pronounce his ‘r’s’ strangely, mixed with a bit of Cobain on the side. Always Going to Fool a Few is another mid-paced blues but this time the chord progressions have a complexity, which lifts it above the norm. Before the Sun is of the Gallagher persuasion, with nice guitar work throughout the solo, in particular, is a lesson in restrained blues playing. Following the Breeze is the first appearance for the acoustic guitar with a somewhat strained vocal, but when the bass and drums cut in, they give this song the kick and differentiation it needs, which prevents it falling into cliché. It does suffer from the incongruous use of them, I think, the ride cymbal. Nowhere Else to Hide sounds like a Led Zep II outtake with Edwards on vocals! Although I think I detect a Fender, rather than Gibson, ‘attack’ on the guitar. It is so familiar that you will, perhaps, forget that Zep reworked many classic blues on their albums, and so I will prefer to think that Edwards has gone back to those great pioneers. Pennies in the Dirt is again grounded on a classic blues trope. The solo is the standout with its depth and range. Rook starts out like a Govt. Mule song with a brilliant bass line and solid drumming (apart from that ride cymbal again!). His vocals are rampant here and very emotive. Two Faces has a bit of funk behind the main riff and is a little faster in pace than the preceding tracks, apart from the bridge, which leads us into a great solo. Who Do You is more of the same with a similar pace and feel. Closing the album is Who’s Becoming Who and they kept the best until last. This has so many lovely guitar phrases punctuating the verses and a superb closing solo that is faded far too quickly.
Overall then, this is a quality album with quality players. There is little variation in pace and nothing which will sound new to blues aficionados, but the same people will still enjoy their approach and execution. However, based on this, I would think that their next album, if they inject that variation, will be even stronger. This is an album which will grow with repeated listens and is already on my iPod.
SEVENdoodle paws out of TEN …
- Aim High
- Always Going to Fool a Few
- Before the Sun
- Following the Breeze
- Nowhere Else to Hide
- Pennies in the Dirt
- Two Faces
- Who Do You
- Who’s Becoming Who
Matt Edwards – Vocals/Guitar
Stuart Dixon – Bass Guitar
Richard Newman – Drums/Percussion
Produced by Stuart Dixon/Matt Edwards.
Recorded at Platform Studios, Reading UK