River Matthews is a soulful, endearing artist and an unadulterated joy to hear live. I was lucky enough to hear him perform (and even luckier to sit down and chat with him as well!) at The Cambridge Folk Festival this last weekend.
His performance was beyond impressive in that he held the stage, alone, with only his guitar as his accompaniment to his strong, clear vocals. But, equally dramatic and absorbing are his songwriting skills that shone through in the set. His persona has a quiet, unassuming strength that presented the perfect compliment to his music in all its beautiful simplicity.
His first song, ‘Butterflies’ connected immediately with the audience resulting in a swaying and responsive crowd, aloft with his captivating sound. He followed with, ‘Undo Ordinary’ which is a song you can never tire of hearing as it’s such a beautiful, lyrical song that is controlled but so powerful.
Next was the superb song ‘Over’ followed by ‘Feels Like Morning’ which River said was inspired by finding new beginnings in life and it delivered something truly thoughtful and exquisite that built with a passionate tempo. What strikes you about River’s vocals is how he transfers from the light, almost airy way he glides on a top note to the deep, verging on guttural rasp of his lower line.
He continued with the sweet and delicate, ‘Bye Bye Bird’ then a rousing cover of ‘House of the Rising Sun’ that River recounted was played by his father a lot when he was young and inspired him to add to his set. ‘Pretty Things’, written for his sister, was a graceful song which came next that had a slow, measured pick of the guitar that lent a simplicity and beauty to it. River then followed with ‘Catherine’, an early song he’d written for a past love, full of richness in the melody and lyrics. He then rendered an affectionate performance of a song he wrote for his niece, ‘Stars’, which was effortlessly enchanting and loved wholeheartedly by the crowd.
‘Sunshine’, the title track to his EP, was the penultimate song he performed and it’s a cappella beginning, soaked in gospel sound and backed with a simple beat from his guitar, compelled the audience to respond in tandem clapping to the cadence. Lastly, he performed an uncomplicated, dreamy and almost sensual version of ‘Must Have Been Love’ that was a stunning end to his set.
He has the knowing face of an old, musical soul inhabiting a new life. He is seriously one to go far and will soon be a name on the lips of many. With a headline tour scheduled later this year in Europe and the UK, it’s clear to see why.