Matt Deighton – Villager (Vinyl Reissue): Album Review

Vinyl remaster of an Acid Folk classic from Matt Deighton and Acid Jazz Records.

Release Date:  19th November 2021

Label: People Tree/ Acid Jazz Records

Formats: Vinyl

Matt Deighton’s solo debut album, Villager, first saw light of day back in 1995, and was immediately hailed as a classic of its genre; I’m not sure, but perhaps the term “Acid Folk” wasn’t in such common use back then but, nevertheless, publications such as Q, NME and The Guardian all recognised that Villager was something special.  Later on, in 2011, in fact, after Villager’s first People Tree reissue, Mojo Magazine featured the album in its popular Buried Treasure feature, and the album’s legend was assured.  Well – there’s good news, for anyone that missed this album the first time round, and also for those who’ve either worn out their previous copies or are looking for an upgrade in production and sound quality, because People Tree/ Acid Jazz Records are reissuing Villager again – this time in milky clear transparent vinyl, and remastered from the original production masters by Nick Robbins at Sound Mastering.

Most At The Barrier regulars will be familiar with Matt Deighton, either as the frontman to acid jazz outfit, Mother Earth, as Paul Weller’s guitarist during the mid-late nineties, as a member of The Bench Connection or The Family Silver, or through his associations with Oasis.  You may also be aware that, after Villager, Matt released a further five solo albums, most recently 2018’s Doubtless Dauntless.  All of his solo work has received critical acclaim and his albums are peppered with collaborations with the likes of Paul Weller, Brian Auger and many others.  Matt’s music has been compared to the best of Nick Drake, Davey Graham and John Martyn and, if you think that’s a bit of a tall order, then you need to listen to Villager – I assure you that you’ll be impressed.

Villager perhaps lacks some of the “superstar” contributions that Matt’s later solo work attracted, but the musicians who do take part certainly leave an impression.  Over a solid foundation, laid by double bassist Phil Steriopulos and drummer Paul Clarris, there are some wonderful contributions from Andrew Dillon on harmonica, Scotty Anderson on piano, Peter Shrubsall on flute and Ingrid Sellschop on violin and, together, they create a sound that covers many bases, including pastoral folk, blues, late sixties psychedelic pop and white soul.  As I listened, in addition to the ubiquitous influences of John Martyn and, particularly, Nick Drake, I also picked out strains of Stevie Wonder, Traffic, Pentangle, Blur and even The Beatles amongst the melange.

Unfortunately, I can only speculate as to the quality of the sound on the remastered vinyl – I listened to my review copy through the less-than-perfect medium of my computer system, but even then I detected hints of the richness of Nick Robbins’ work, and I do have it on extremely good authority that the finished product “sounds amazing…”

Hints of Stevie Wonder and the then-contemporary Britpop come through on the soulful opener, Good For Us, and it’s clear, right from the outset, that Villager still sounds as fresh as it did on the day that it first appeared.  The ghosts of Messrs. Drake and Martin are clearly heard on the exquisite Stones Around the Candle, and Peter Shrubsall’s flute really does recall those halcyon days of the late 1960s when this kind of music almost broke through into the mainstream.  Stones Around The Candle is nice and bluesy with a dreamy twist and, in the unlikely event that I was asked by an alien to explain what Acid Folk actually is, I’d offer this track up as a prime example.

I love Phil Steriopulos’s bass work on the epic medley, Villager – Bone Dry Boat.  Add in Matt’s sensitive singing and the nice vocal harmonies, and you get a pretty accurate picture of what Pentangle would have sounded like if they’d replaced Bert Jansch and John Renborn with Nick Drake!  The medley’s two songs, Villager and Bone Dry Boat are joined at the middle as the Pentangle feel gives way to The Beatles in their Sun King mood.  A relentless drumbeat from Paul Clarris drives the wistful Jesus Loves the Rain along, before things become altogether more urgent, with Get Out of The Road.  A Bo Diddley rhythm on Matt’s acoustic guitar is given added substance by some dramatic fiddle from Ingrid, whilst relief is offered by sequences of gentle psych-pop in the song’s bridge sections.

Perhaps my favourite track on this wonderful album is the dreamy Hey, My Mind.  With a tune that insists on heading for places that the listener never anticipates, it’s drenched in interesting vocal harmonies and splashes of electric guitar – it’s a wonderful slice of pastoral psychedelia, and I love it.  After the whimsey of Hey, My Mind, Pure English Honey sounds almost funky.  Full of choppy electric guitar and soulful backing vocals, it’s a song that I could imagine Mr Fantasy-era Traffic having a crack at.  Matt’s vocal flits between folky intimacy and white soul, and another excellent harmonica solo from Andrew is a large cherry on a very tasty cake.

The clue is in the title as we close our eyes to dream along to the evocative instrumental, Windmills of Norfolk.  Guitar, bass and violin all play their part in conjuring up some vivid rural images in this evocative tune.  Peter Shrubsall’s flute makes a welcome return for Two Piece Jigsaw Puzzle, another song with a strong Nick Drake influence before things are brought to a satisfying close with the slow-building Hiding in the Breeze.  A slow, deliberate, double bass solo from Phil gets the song underway before Matt tentatively joins in; Paul’s drums are tastefully restrained as, indeed, they are throughout the album, as the song develops into a quasi-soul climax.

It isn’t overstating things to describe Villager as a classic album – that’s an accolade that is fully deserved and it’s great to see the revived interest that this People Tree/ Acid Jazz reissue from Matt Deighton is creating.  Heartily recommended!

Listen to Hey, My Mind – a track from the album – here:

Matt Deighton Online: Website / Twitter / YouTube

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