reviews

Folk Radio July 2010

Described by Gilles Peterson as “a great artist” Matt Sage started out in a band with musicians who moved on to find success working with Faithless and Dido, after which he turned his efforts to solo projects while holed up on a canal boat in Oxfordshire. Since then he has played at WOMAD, started up a hugely successful acoustic night in Oxford called Catweazle, and created a platform called Big Village: allowing for a diverse set of world musicians from India, Senegal, Egypt and Cuba to perform in intimate venues throughout Oxfordshire.

With prior releases including his debut LP, with band the Orchestra of Love, entitled Strange News from Another Star, he is now working with newly formed collective The Medicine; who are looking to record and release sometime this year. With all these projects behind him then, and his desire to push eclectic independent music, by the time of this year’s August release of his second solo album Let the Music Out, he has marked himself as a prolific musical figure in his county – though to many of our ears, mine included, this could be the first time we have heard his work, or indeed his name.

Let the Music out is a sunshiney, pop symphony with echos of Gold-era Ryan Adams, a bit of Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band, and ounces and ounces of his own band vibe thanks to the vast array of instrumentation. The title track is full of sublime electric guitar and violin, with joyful interuption from saxophone, “All the Colours” showcases a tight instrumental interlude layered with the hushed repeated lyrics “all the colours that you see”, whereas “Lilia”, an excellent track and one of the best on the album is so jazzy and sensual that Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man springs to mind as a musical reference point. Sage’s ability to seamlessly move from musical genre to genre over the course of the record is unique; stitched together in such a way that his variety can scan all these types comfortably without becoming disconnected or disengaging. The overproduction however could be a downfall to the record, letting it fall into just another pretty, lilting summertime BBQ LP, but on the otherhand, it benefits from this too in the way that its sound is full and crisp, making the record and instrumentation crystal clear and all encompassing.

A likeable artist who does what he does exceedingly well; I would be surprised if his talents failed to impress on some level, and while his lyrics can be a bit of a cliche in places; “I know I’m a dreamer but it’s my dreams that keep me alive”; his franker words work much better and feel less contrived, along with his musicianship that outshines by far the most. “Beautiful Morning” which musically is very interesting and employs quite unconventional use of time frames etc, lyrically, in places, isn’t his strongest, while “Song for Sam” is a perfect example of his stripped down and unadorned lyrics exposing the true sentiments of the album.

Nonetheless it is a lighthearted and perfectly enjoyable summertime LP from an accomplished musician doing what he does more than well – which is refreshing enough in itself. Every note and nuance is well thought out; precisely composed and orchestrated, and I’ll be interested to hear more of his projects if only to hear more of the endless joy of Sage and the musicians involved, which rolls out in endless waves from start to finish.

Daily Info June 2007


Matt Sage is an inspirational songmaker and performer, whether singing solo, with an acoustic guitar or conducting the full and explosive electric band. After moving from London where his fellow musicians went on to stardom with Faithless and Dido, he took up residence on a boat on the Oxford canal, founded the legendary Catweazle Club and assembled a stable of the finest local musicians, singers and poets.

Acoustic showcased the talents of individual members of this band. Kicking off with Adam Carpenter on guitar and vocals, Jane Griffiths on violin and Colin Fletcher on base and guitar, the audience were treated to plucky folk numbers such as Sleepy Heart and Under the Stars (a wonderful little song about love and trust). A combination of strings created marvellous dreamy overtones.

Next up were Jane and Colin with a selection of hornpipes and reels. A journey from Northumberland, through the heather of the Highlands - across the water to the Emerald Isle and all the way to the American Deep South. It was Guinness to Gumbo, Bantry Bay to Bayou. The notes soared high and with the final Frank's Reel the punters were resonating. I have to add that as a fiddle player Jane is one of the finest I've seen to date.

Better yet was Barnabas, a one- man orchestra. He lays down track as he plays and then plays over that, building wondrous layers of sumptuous guitar plucking, cello and percussion and entwining it with soft vocals. He even stole an audience applause sample, asked us to join in and then said cheekily 'I already got a bit of you anyway.' This guy produced what I can only describe as a veritable Bayeaux Tapestry of a set. Check out: www.barnabasmusic.co.uk

A short film, The King of Everything, shot in Oxford opened the second half and Matt fronted his band. A charismatic and soulful fellow, he led them through a fine selection of his well-crafted songs. Particular favourites were the subtle Lilia and Be There with the touching line "When you don't feel so pretty, that's when your beauty really shines." He's a powerful and emotional performer, a thinker too, with an enviable stage presence, touching on melodramatic. Matt has been likened to Jeff Buckley and Damien Rice and I can see why, but he is without doubt an original.

Why we haven't heard more about him I don't know. Maybe his album Strange News From Another Star will rocket him out into the mainstream universe. The songs and the whole raison d'etre of Matt and his incredible band seems to have roots in the spiritual and one feels it. This is nectar for the soul - no wonder they are aptly named The Orchestra of Love.


Healthy Concerts March 2006

"Sublime, sensitive, authentic performance. Matt weaves a musical spell and gently whisks you away somewhere. Curvaceous lines of melody that never settle upon a pitch, deep or high but oh so soft and seemingly effortless and a performance that holds the attention through inventive and playful delivery of songs that are really worth listening to. Good on the ear! And I kept thinking about the hundreds of evenings of the Catweazle club in Oxford that Matt's promoted and hosted, about the thousands of singers and songwriters that must have enjoyed that protected and cherished listening environment... and I was just filled with a sense of appreciation and connection.” John Wadsworth and Paul Chi


Nightshift Magazine, December 2005

“Until tonight I was a Catweazle Club virgin. At first I thought I had accidentally walked into a prayer meeting. Everyone sitting on the floor mostly crossed-legged with smiling face gleaming up at the stage. Like one big happy family. And it is. Thanks to Matt Sage.

The hyper and loveable Steve Larkin from Inflatable Buddha is our compÈre for the night. Any rigidity on my part (ok I’m not used to sitting on the floor at the Zodiac) is soon washed away as he sets the scene for the Matt Sage Trio, with Colin Fletcher on upright bass and Jane Griffiths on violin. I admire Matt for going against the norm. The arrangements with voice, guitar and other instruments are lovely and both simple and complex. They change
from sweetness one moment to big movie- scape songs the next. In ‘Around the World’ he’s gets the audience to ‘lalalala’ (yes it is TOO a verb) throughout its entirety and it certainly wouldn’t be out of place playing through the rolling credits of the next James Bond movie. In ‘Be There’ he lovingly laments, “When you don’t feel so pretty, that’s when your beauty shines”, with the grace and emotion of Jeff Buckley or Damien Rice.

Ah yes, emotion. Matt has lots of emotion. Sometimes... maybe too much. He has an amazing and dynamic voice; his stagecraft and performance persona would have most local acts spitting with envy. But Matt’s best when he forgets that actually there’s an audience even there. When he plays it up he can fall into a Bob Dylan-esque pretence, over annunciating his words. But when he forgets the melodrama, like in the heartfelt ‘Lilia’, he
closes his eyes and in his own world he goes for glory. It’s his best song tonight and leaves little doubt as to why this big happy family will all be sitting here rapturously next time.”

Katy Jerome


Trifecagram New York June 2005


Gorgeously lush, orchestrated art-pop in the Britfolk vein of the Strawbs, late 60s Moody Blues and maybe Supertramp. Soaring, fearlessly sunny tunefulness with sweeping, pastoral melodies. I can only imagine how popular this album would have been in the 70’s. It’s the rare album that’s Dylanesque in a melodic sense: Sage’s terse (dare I say poetic?) lyricism fits perfectly within the songs’ smartly tasteful chord changes. Like many of his contemporaries in the British underground rock scene, he’s a superior guitarist and a strong singer: no lazy open guitar chords or whiny mumbling here. The cd opens with All Around the World, a pop gem that swoops in on a magic carpet of strings. The King of Everything is a subtle lyrical jab at the likes of the Bush regime. With its killer organ solo, the title track recounts the minute-by-minute narrative of the paradigm shift that might or might not occur if an enlightened alien came to earth:

He traveled so far to tell us his news

It seemed we were too far were to gone to listen

Blind from drowning in a thousand shades of blue

We couldn’t even see what we’d be missing…

With its snazzy fingerpicking, Outlaws reminds us that in a police state, we’re all criminals. The cd’s gospel-inflected piano and organ work is outstanding, particularly on the ecstatic Sweet Provider, a choir of backup singers belting at gale force. Along with the Britfolk and the art-rock, there’s also a little bit of a hippie vibe here and there, but it’s a lot closer to Al Stewart than Jack Johnson (not the boxer: can you imagine a hippie in the ring?) Hardly anybody writes this kind of music anymore, stateside or elsewhere, giving Sage a bigger bite of what should be a goodsized market (as evidenced by the ubiquitous repackaged ELO greatest-hits collections next to the counter at Duane Reade, et al.). In the UK, Matt Sage plays a lot of summer festivals and plays New York on occasion as well.


Radio 1 June 2005

“A great artist” - Gilles Peterson on Radio 1 after playing Matt Sage’s track The King Of Everything on his show.
 

The Oxford Times, April 2005

Matt Sage, founder of the eclectic Catweazle Club, which helps promote all kinds of live music and performance has, at long last, released an album of his own material.

Matt has been a cornerstone of Oxford’s alternative music scene ever since he moved here from London – and, if you have ever seen him perform live, you’ll know that his self-produced album Strange News From Another Star, is a long overdue showcase of his considerable songwriting talents.

For me, the album has echoes of Karl Wallinger’s World Party – with a little bit of Al Stewart and Dylan thrown in for good measure. Lyrics are clever and meaningful, while instrumentation and arrangements are lush and always inventive.

My stand-out songs are The King Of Everything, a song about a man of the road, and the title track. More people need to get to know about Mr Sage – and this album is a great place to start. 

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