Matt Berry has rightly gained acclaim as one of this country’s most popular comedic actors, with his work extending from left-field late night fare through to his scene-stealing quips on What We Do In The Shadows. Along the way, however, he’s also nurtured a unique series of studio albums, moving from bombastic prog-folk through to a collection of TV themes.
‘Phantom Birds’ finds Matt Berry playing it straight, with wonderfully satisfying results. Said to be inspired by Bob Dylan’s work in Nashville – think the simplicity of ‘John Wesley Harding’ - it finds the songwriter working with a minimal palette, speaking straight from the heart.
It all works superbly well. Augmented only by legendary pedal steel player BJ Cole – who played on those wonderful early 70s Elton John recordings – and dexterous drummer Craig Blundell, it’s a series of neat, pastoral meditations. ‘Take A Bow’ is an affecting ode to life’s simple pleasures, while ‘Phantom Birds’ and ‘Moonlight Flit’ seem to reference Matt Berry’s countryside domesticity, having recently relocated from London.
The sound is warm and refreshing, the playing simple but effective. BJ Cole seems to conjure entire string sections with his pedal steel, while Craig Blundell swaps the prog pyrotechnics of his day-job with Steven Wilson for something calmer, but no less assured.
Matt Berry, too, is on wonderful form, whether that’s the genial performance on ‘That Yellow Bird’ or the rather more revealing, open take on male mental health that underpins ‘Something In My Eye’. It’s a voice you recognise, for sure, but it’s used in a different, sincere, and equally creative manner as his acting work.
A succinct, focussed return, ‘Phantom Birds’ makes a neat soundtrack to the final days of the English summer.
Words: Robin Murray
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