Album Review: River Matthews - 'Imogen'

Predominantly concentrating on the theme of love, ‘Imogen’, the debut album from River Matthews ebbs and flows from soulful to poignant to spine-tinglingly beautiful.

The album explodes to life with the upbeat hook-driven ‘Sunshine’, a rapturous feel-good song that instantly puts a smile on your face and makes you want to dance.

The middle core of the album moves through the different stages of love. From the sweet, fresh beginnings of new love on ‘Feels Like Morning’; to ‘Undo Ordinary’ a song partly inspired by River’s parents, about an unwavering kind of love that grows and deepens over time; to the tender ‘Fool for You’, a song about lost love.

A personal favourite is ‘Butterflies’, with its catchy rhythmic beat and delicate piano accompaniment that sums up the joyous bravadoes of new relationships with “flutterings of heartbeats in the air”. In contrast, ‘Never’ is the ‘throw-down’ song of the album. The full production gives it a cross between the rhythm and blues of an Anderson East song mixed with the essence of Michael Bublé’s ‘Cry Me A River’. It’s a song with impact.

Anyone that’s attended a River Matthews' show will know that ‘Stars’ is a song close to his heart. It’s a song that is about the most important people in his life: his mum, dad and sister… and his niece, Imogen - after whom the album is named. Through the subtle play on the word ‘imagine’ the song is about talking to his niece and telling her to count her own stars… “they’re all for you / just you, Imogen”.

The final track on the album is a bookend to the opening song of the album and is an intimate and commanding rendition of ‘House of the Rising Sun’. The way in which River sings The Animals’ classic, lifts the lyrics to the point of badassness that leaves you spent, consumed and speechless.

Overall, ‘Imogen’ has a truly distinguished quality that fuses elements of Folk, Soul and Americana. It is a delightful debut that is simple, pure and honest, whilst at the same time both vintage and contemporary. It’s easy to see why Jo Whiley named River “[BBC Radio 2’s] New Favourite Thing”. Now established as one of the UK’s most distinctive and soulful vocal performers, this is a body of work that will ensure River’s place as one of the most talented songwriters on the scene today.

Currently on tour in the U.S., River will be back in the UK for a string of shows and festivals from May onwards.

Review by Marijana Mladenić