MATT BENTLEY has been in and about, writing, performing and recording songs for the last seven years. And with this first full album he has demonstrated (if anyone still doubted it) that real talent and serious homegrown effort can outperform “industry” standards of content, production and packaging by what we used to call a long chalk. It’s a very good album, and it looks and sounds like a very good album.
Deep down, BENTLEY is an acoustic guitar player whose earliest steps must have taken him somewhere near Arthur Lee’s “Forever Changes”, Dick Gaughan’s emotional depth, Davy Graham’s eclecticism and Al Stewart’s meticulous way with a lyric. He gets help on various tracks from Josh Goody (bass and keyboards), Ian Dudfield of Kid ID (trombone) and Rich Stephenson (percussion).
For an old timer like me, opening track “This Old Town” is a trip back to the late 1960s and obsessive attachment to Love. On BENTLEY‘s album Dudfield’s multi-tracked trombone stands in for the “Alone Again Or” session trumpets of Bud Brisbois, Roy Caton and Ollie Mitchell (as well as Richard Leith’s trombone of course). There’s something in the layered, gradual production too that evokes the restlessness of Love at that time.
The funky acoustic guitar sound is carried over to track 2 “Sacrifice”. Otherwise it could be a song form a different album. Current wisdom seems to drive newer artists to chose a template and stick with it. “Entropy” is not that kind of album. Apart from some light percussion this is a once voice, one guitar song with a lot of strength and drive. Its followed by a Gaelic affair with lilting guitar line, a very smooth voice and a tune so good that it sounds 300 years old. It has some more of that interesting percussion too. It could be an OYSTERBAND song as the tempo an energy picks up in the second half.
The shifts of style and mood continue. There are two very sweet guitar pieces without vocals – a quick one and a slow one. They are played with a careful touch to please the ear and show off no more than sensitivity. They add to the variety and to the pleasure of a whole album of music.
The song “Entropy” itself has a balance and maturity that makes it the rightful centrepiece. As with “Sacrifice” the melody is so plain good that I feel as though I must have heard it from Nic Jones someone further back. It’s sung in higher register, and soars with melancholy acceptance of things that must end.
“Hurt You” skips away with hand claps, rougher guitar strumming and a southern European kind of sway. “Clockward” is mellower, “Here One Day” sounds more Britpop, in its folkishly anthemic way. And closing track “Sonata” changes it all again. The finger style guitar has the sound of a harp about it, with flurries of arpeggios and a long descending pattern before rich synth and vocal tracks shift away into a dream space where the song itself plays out the album’s last change. The qualities of “Entropy” are gently understated so the gradual discovery that it is a seriously good collection of performances is very rewarding.