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River Matthews : Imogen

English singer-songwriter River Matthews channels Cat Stevens and Saved-era Bob Dylan in this meltingly sentimental debut album that prefers soothing listeners to stirring them up.

Imogen wanders through many musical territories, from gospel (‘Sunshine’) to folk (‘Butterflies’) and acerbic blues-rock (‘Never’), avoiding becoming too eclectic thanks to the constant presence of Matthews’ sweetly tremulous vocals and delicate finger-picking. By turns intimate and exuberant, Imogen offers a pleasant listening experience, free of false notes.
 
Though Matthews the lyricist touches on themes of loss and disappointment, Matthews the musician is too steadily warm and comforting to leave a resonant impression of sorrow. Only ‘Never’ offers a real suggestion of anger or pain – of anything other than joy or placid affection.
 
Imogen is also undercut by textureless supporting instrumentation that fails to reinforce the artist’s lush expressive talents. Throughout, Matthews’ voice is the only layer of sound with any identifiable personality. Lovelorn ballad ‘Pretty Thing’, the album’s most fully realized track, benefits from being stripped down to vocals and steel strings.
 
This debut effort is a splash of sunlight, an effortlessly pleasing creation that never overreaches itself but also chooses not to challenge its audience.
 
6.5/10