Rising British talent at SXSW picked for your delectation by 'MOJO' Editor-in-Chief Phil Alexander
Matthew & the Atlas8pm, Klub Krucial
The sight of Mumford & Sons nestling in the upper reaches of the Billboard Top 200 suggests that America may well be paying attention to the latest outpouring of British neo-folk. And if that's the case, when it comes to capturing the hearts and minds of the USA, then Matthew & the Atlas could well be joining the Mumfords when they release their debut album, ostensibly later in the year.
Signed to the Communion label run by Mumford man Ben Lovett, Cherbourg's Kevin Jones, and producer Ian Grimble, Matthew & the Atlas coalesced around the label's club night in late 2009. Since then, the fivepiece of the gravel-throated Matthew Hegarty (vocals, guitar), Lindsay West (piano, vocals), Tommy Field (drums), Dave Millar (accordion), and Harrison Cargill (banjo, guitar) has developed a warm and textured sound that owes as much to the initial influences of Nick Drake and John Martyn as it does to the band's admiration for more recent artists like Iron & Wine and the National.
In many respects, the evolution of the fivepiece illustrates just how the scene forged around the self-supporting Communion collective operates. Theirs has not been a rapid ascent. Instead, they've paid their dues by playing a stream of small club shows, rising to London venues such as the Lexington before supporting Mumford & Sons on a UK tour a year ago and finding a new audience in the process. This process has allowed the South West London quintet to grow at their own pace and on their own terms.
The band's first recorded appearance was on the Communion Compilation in March 2010. Their contribution, the impressive 2009 recording of "Deadwood," appeared alongside kindred spirits such as Johnny Flynn (tipped in this august organ some three years ago), Benjamin Francis Leftwich, and Marcus Foster. Just as Communion is far more than champions of the so-called nu-folk movement, so too "Deadwood" demonstrated that Matthew & the Atlas' musical scope extends far beyond folk. It's a point further borne out by the To the North EP. Released two months after their compilation appearance, for all the hand claps and harmonies that defined the standout track "I Will Remain," it also emphasized the band's ability to write tunes that possess the dusty, muscular appeal of Springsteen at his most down-home.
Since then, Matthew & the Atlas have continued to graft, releasing yet another EP, the uplifting Kingdom of Your Own, and preparing for their first album. This South by Southwest appearance offers U.S. audiences a glorious glimpse of a band whose grasp of British classicism is matched by its love of latter-day Americana.
Three further Mojo Brit picks for Thursday:New Mastersounds, ACL Live at Moody Theater, 8:15pm;
Goldheart Assembly, Latitude 30, 9pm;
James Blake, Central Presbyterian Church, 1am