What is it about Wales? It's most precious cultural totems - Dylan Thomas, Richard Burton, John Cale - always move to America, very rarely to return. 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.
Apart from a five-minute glimpse of her at the hangar-sized Cardiff International Arena, singing "Fairy Tale of New York" with the Pogues last Christmas, it's been a few years since Matthews dragged herself away from the Tennessee backwoods and ventured out on tour. This internet-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's apparent newfound bliss as a married mother of two children. Yet, despite not getting out much these days, Matthews still has something to sing about. Where many before her have failed, there's proof tonight that Cerys Matthews is strong and individual enough to rise above post-celebrity status.
Most importantly, her voice and the songs still have a fiery hint of the wild and rebellious. It is the most zestful she has sounded for a decade. 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 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 and adroitly named 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, and less rooted in the morass of doomed love and more in the realms of sunny, 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" and - despite the intense heat - she looks comfortable in a white petticoat, red belt and green stilettos. 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 been celebrated for. It's hard to imagine Matthews ever wanting to be drawn into the intoxicating pop machine again. From tonight's show it's obvious she no longer has to be all over the front page to make an impact.Reuse content