Anything that immediately reminds me of the grace, understatement, and majesty of Nick Drake, as the eponymous opener of Soul Season does, is more than enough to make me pay close attention to what follows. And a song built only out of such sparse but gentle beauty speaks volumes even before things have even begun to get underway.
It proves that less is most definitely more that sometimes it is the emptiness and subtle use of space that makes you lean in and pay attention, not bombast and bravado. It shows that artists such as the aforementioned Mr Drake still have a role to play in the modern world (on a side note, it shows that Matt John Henderson has exquisite taste, and if he has not been finding inspiration from that tragic artist, then he is even more of a visionary songcrafter in his own right.) It proves also that music is cyclical and that some styles of music survive the rigours of short-term fads and fashion merely by being iconic.
Yes, to paraphrase a famous movie quote, you had me at “It’s…”
As last year’s Through A Painted Veil proved, Matt knows his way around folk music, for want of a better term, and this new album is filled with the same blends of delicacy and deftness, the same fine line walked between backwards glancing at past musical traditions and forward thinking.
But if minimalism is a feature of the album, we shouldn’t mistake this for simplicity as the songs are wonderfully ornate, but ornate in a way that isn’t about overplaying or showboating. By The Waterfront Docks uses delicate finger-picking and all manner of beguiling electronica and trippy beats to paint a picture of serenity and freedom, part ambience, part experimental. And if you are looking for the art of understatement taken to some beautiful extremes, Torpid Rust, the first half of it at least, seems formed of scattered musical fragments and sounds shifting on the sonic winds before a beat breezes into view, gently tethering and tying all of these sounds together.
Misty Mourning seems to capture the same jazz-folk essence that ran through much of John Martyn’s best work; Soul Season II adds some Eastern mysticism to the original idea, making for a lovely blend of Occident meets Orient, and the album drifts out with Spirit Howls, a chiming and charming swansong.
With the previous album to guide me, I knew I was in safe hands, but even those earlier songs hadn’t prepared me enough for just how great this new collection would be. If the mark of the forward-thinking, ever-evolving, experimental and comfort-zone-averse artist is trying to better the already high benchmarks that they have set for themselves, Matt John Henderson gets to join that elite group.
The album Soul Season will be available on October 6th