This is a review of "Something to Find" recorded by Matt Bentley. The review was written by Ashley Battye in 2012.
According to commentators at the recent BBC2 Folk Awards; the genre is making a comeback and is becoming especially popular with today's young people, but of course they would say that, wouldn't they? Usually I would just pass these kind of comments off as hopeful rhetoric coming from people who wish that the thing they love will soon become popular with the masses, but on this occasion I'm starting to think they may have a point; I definitely seem to be seeing more guys around with weird beards who whiff a bit and dress like extras from some crummy country n' western B movie, and middle class hippie girls wandering in and out of guitar shops before heading off to the pub for a pint of Theakston's Old Peculier.
First of all though, what exactly is modern folk music? If it were an umbrella it would certainly keep a lot of people dry. Don McLean won a lifetime achievement award at the recent BBC2 ceremony, and his music is very different to that of Lucy Ward (what do you mean you've never heard of her?), who took home the horizon award, whatever that is. Some of the artists there were asked this very question, and their response was either 'it's mainly acoustic guitar based music', meaning that it would technically include Tenacious D, or 'it's music that could be made at home by anyone', which I suppose could mean anything from a nine hour classical 'masterpiece', to some bloke breaking wind into a microphone.
Despite its confusing definition though; folk music definitely does have a certain feel and distinction, and Matt Bentley fits nicely into this, but I'm afraid it doesn't matter if it's folk, indie, metal, jazz or Zimbabwean bongo music, to be successful, to sell records, and to build a fan base wider than a few friends and Uncle Cecil, your songs need to have a hook. 'Something to Find' is an album full of songs that are just kind of... okay, there's nothing there that burrows into your brain and makes you think hey, I want to listen to that again, and before you 'alternative' people out there start arguing that big, catchy choruses are the tool of X Factor pop stars with their false emotion and stupid key changes; I'm saying that a hook can be anything, 'All Nightmare Long' by Metallica, for example, is a decent track, but what makes it one of my favourites is just one line, and on occasion I have found myself listening to the first 4 hours of a Rush song just to hear the 4 seconds of guitar work I enjoy.
Dynamically this album is disappointing too; it's not until track 5 'You Won't Know My Name' that percussion is introduced, and even then it's not used to good effect, the preceding songs sound flat and all seem to blend into one another. It's a similar story when it comes to the overall mood of the record; genteel and sensitive up until 'The King of Leeds' and stand out track 'Life in Reverse' which have a bit of bite and attitude, and then on to more of the same.
It would be unfair of me at this point not to highlight Matt Bentley's instrumental and vocal abilities; the acoustic guitar work throughout the album is well written and well performed, although it does occasionally border on tinkering, and his voice, despite being far from perfect, suits the music like a dressing gown suits Hugh Hefner, and adapts to the lyrics beautifully.
The harsh truth is then, that 'Something to Find' is a difficult album to enjoy, it does have its good moments, but they are few and far between, and although I am a gambling man willing to take a few risks, I certainly won't be putting any of my hard earned on Matt Bentley's name being on any of next year's BBC2 Folk Awards.