Matthew and the Atlas - To The North

Drawing comparisons to Brit folkie icon John Martyn, Bon Iver and Ray Lamontagne, London's Matthew Hegarty and his backing band The Atlas find a way to straddle both traditional U.K. folk elements and exceptionally vivid contemporary acoustic songcraft. And with a voice that sounds like he's been gargling regularly on an elixir of Scotch whiskey and the remains of an old ashtray, the shy, unassuming Hegarty and his gravelly rasp bring a well-worn, scraped and bruised authority to songs that seep into your soul one battered, wistful note at a time.

It's fitting that Matthew and the Atlas have been opening for fellow neo-traditionalists Mumford and Sons -- both share a passion for that particular brand of "pub-folk": terse, tender ballads and, in turn, rollicking, foot-stomping raveups all with richly embroidered but simply displayed acoustic textures. Busking and frayed-string guitar strums, pounded heels and handclapped rhythms, accordion fills and banjo twang all add distinctive instrumental color to the songs from Hegarty and band's upcoming U.K. EP To The North (April 11). Opener "I Will Remain" builds from jangly folk to rousing, scuffling romp, a song that reminds us -- with the help of Hegarty's husky vocals -- just how powerfully soulful acoustic music can be. Highly recommended.

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Matthew and the Atlas - "I Will Remain" (from the EP To The North)

Matthew and the Atlas - "Within the Rose" (from the EP To The North)