It's been nearly two years since the demise of Catatonia but there never seemed to be...
Derryck Strachan 2003
It's been nearly two years since the demise of Catatonia, and despite her fairly low profile since, there never seemed to be any question that Cerys Matthews would resurface at some point in the future.
What is surprising is that the former indie diva has chosen to take a trip deep into Americana, recording a batch of folk-influenced tunes, and nary a rock lick in sight. That's not to say she doesn't belt it out now and again, coming over like an 80-a-day Maria Muldaur on "If You're Lookin' For Love", and clearly enjoying the three-sheets-to-the-wind bawl of "La Bague".
The sound of Cockahoop no doubt owes much to Bob Dylan steel guitarist Bucky Baxter who took on production duties as well as a stellar (as far as the alt.country scene goes anyway) cast of support players. Guitarist Richard Bennett (Travis Tritt, Emmylou Harris), drummer Ken Coomer (Uncle Tupelo/Wilco), and multi-instrumentalist Jim Hoke form a pretty flawless backing group.
While much of the album is made up of cover versions, Cerys own contributions, particularly "Only AFool" and "Caught In The Middle", really stand out, mixing up folk and pop with simplicity and directness. The problem comes with her voice.
It's unclear whether Cerys was aiming for Gillian Welch bitter-sweetness or the raucous melancholy of Tom Waits; what is clear is that she achieves neither. Her idiosyncratic rasp sits uncomfortably in a genre that is buzzing with exceptional voices.
That's not to say that Cockahoop is without its saving graces, there's the affecting opener "Chardonnay", a song written by Roger Cook (who penned "Talking In Your Sleep" for Crystal Gayle), while her version of the Handsome Family's "Weightless Again" possesses a disconcerting beauty.
But elsewhere Matthews' vocals lack the subtlety and charisma to really make her material come alive, betraying her own inexperience as a singer in a genre where, to be fair, she's chosen to jump in at the deep end. It's not that she hasn't got it in her. It's just going to take a few albums until she matures into a fully-fledged country singer.