One of England’s best kept musical secrets, The Village is the eclectic brainchild of trilby hatted troubadour Phil Matthews. With a visceral and spiritual blend of Syd Barrett, Robyn Hitchcock and Andy Partridge that permeate all of Phil’s music, he’s become an unsung hero of Britain’s prevailing folk scene. Once dubbed the “the voice of middle-aged England”, Phil clearly has a lot to say, and with the release of his new album, he looks set to carry on the conversation for years to come.
Titled ‘Escape From The Witchwood’, the new record is Phil’s fifth so far and one that dives deep into the mythology of British folk. An undeniable slice of heartfelt folk-rock, it’s simple, honest, and unassuming, bringing to life ten unique tales that shine with a true retro sound.
Opening with the title track, Phil carves an instantly recognisable path, launching into a jangling acoustic melody and burst of psychedelia that become a hallmark of the album. It’s a quick-fire introduction that flows with off-kilter energy, detailing the struggle of a poor soul trapped in the Witchwood. Second cut ‘Will O’ The Wisp’ takes a far more textured approach to the mythological leanings, slowing the tempo and drawing on more soft-progressive sounds to make its mark. It’s a song that has an undeniable groove to it, offering shades of The Doors or Pink Floyd.
Third track ‘Stars That Light The Meadow’ dives into the dusty country road, bringing the album to an early instrumental, before the saga repeats, bringing more Beatles-esque sounds in ‘Trapped Inside The Phantom Zone’ and the melancholy undertones of ‘Random Brandon’. Painting a diverse and wonderfully engaging picture, the album shifts and changes with ease, delivering ambling acoustics and wistful romanticism in ‘Caretaker Of Your Heart’ in one breath, and then the odd, children’s TV styled ‘Hello Chums’ in another. It’s a refreshing, but disarming element to the album, but one that Phil is keen to play through, offering another instrumental break in ‘The Twang’, some classic folk brilliance in ‘The Devil Came To Derbyshire’, and a closing touch of tropical sounds in last track, ‘Memories of Summer’.
From first glance, you could mistake ‘Escape From The Witchwood’ as just another entry in Britain’s rich folk history, but repeat listens and an open mind will reveal far more than that. Filled with original touches and refreshing tweaks, the majority of which work without a hitch, the new record is a sharp advance on old school folk, showing a way through the forest without losing sight of its roots.