Cerys Matthews, The Point, Cardiff <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

What is it about Wales? Its most precious cultural icons - Dylan Thomas, Richard Burton, John Cale et al - always move to America. Cerys Matthews has bucked the trend. After one post-Catatonia reinvention in Nashville where she drew out the folksy whimsy in her craggy, sea-breezy vocals, she's now settled again close to the west Wales seaside where she grew up. And so the next chapter opens on a beguiling talent.

It's been a few years since Matthews has ventured out on tour. This converted church in Cardiff, the city where it all began for Matthews as a busker 15 years ago, is unassuming enough to cater for this former pop siren turned married mother of two. Yet, despite not getting out much these days, she still has something to sing about.

Most importantly, her voice and the songs still have a fiery hint of the wild and rebellious. Whatever demons she once had, she has vanquished them and she seems more a part of her new, all-American band, featuring Sheryl Crow's brother, than she did of Catatonia. Matthews once sang: "Every day when I wake up, I thank the Lord I'm Welsh", and many missed the irony. But she has not forsaken her wondrously mellifluous elongated vowels nor the Welsh language songbook, even when she joined the lap steel guitar player Bucky Baxter for her 2003 album celebrating Americana, Cockahoop.

Tonight, she's here to air tracks from the soon-to-be released Never Said Goodbye. The new songs veer off in another direction, away from both the Britpop of Catatonia, where she had to compete with a barrage of rock guitars, and the pastoral mellow purity of Cockahoop, into something more joyous, more life-affirming - less rooted in the morass of doomed love, and more in the realms of quirky pop.

The music touches on playful prog, kicking off with a wigged-out keyboard intro leading to the new song "The Streets of New York". She has no need to rely on past Catatonia glories as the new material sounds so strong. "The Good in Goodbye" possesses the immense power she's celebrated for.

It's hard to imagine Matthews ever wanting to be drawn into the intoxicating pop machine again. It's obvious she no longer has to be all over the front page to make an impact.

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