Album Review: Matthew And The Atlas – Morning Dancer

As the first artist to be signed to Communion Records, Matthew Hegarty’s band Matthew And The Atlas have delighted us with several records and EP’s over the years. Morning Dancer, their third LP, is the follow up to Temple (2016) and Other Rivers (2014). Marrying Hegarty’s unique voice and songwriting skills to a varied soundscape, this 10-song album weaves an emotional tapestry around you as you listen.

This is the first time that Hegarty has recorded with his touring band and as such the record has a live feel to it. As anyone who has seen them live knows, the five piece band bring a large and varied sound to their shows and the use of more brass and woodwind on Morning Dancer is intriguing, and alongside electric guitar, they drive the album through to its close.

In January, we got the first taste of the new album with lead single ‘Pyres’. The song introduces the listener to the new brass instruments that can be found dotted throughout the album. Treating us to four singles (one per month) before release date, fans got a real taste of the joys to be found whilst leaving enough to interest the listener when the record as a whole came out.

The rich soundscape present on ‘Plaything’, the final single released before the record came out, brings together the newer elements of driving guitar and brass with that which a fan expects to hear; thoughtful lyrics, strong instrumentation, and a powerful vocal from Hegarty which shines brightly.

In fact, the vocals on display throughout the album are outstanding and the harmonies between Hegarty and Emma Gatrill are particularly beautiful, especially so on ‘Tower Above the Sun’ which stands out with its vocal being complimented by its simple arrangement.

‘Low’ is another highlight on a record which saw me tapping and humming along as soon as I heard it. It felt like I already knew the songs and that familiarity with a band that you like has been rewarded here especially with a song that fits in with all my favourite Matthew And The Atlas tunes.

‘Calling Long Distance’ recalls the acoustic feel from their Temple Unplugged record and places Hegarty’s vocals alongside a superbly simple acoustic guitar. The song pulls you in with the opening lines “I’m calling long distance, Can you meet me for a coffee, Maybe someplace new” and keeps you entranced until the very last notes.

Morning Dancer takes us on a journey through the varying styles that fans have come to expect from Matthew And The Atlas, which has at various points utilised different styles to give us synth-laden songs, through to simple finger-picked acoustic melodies and roaring rock numbers which fill rooms when played live. With the additional brass instrumentation the record delivers a set of familiar and yet different songs weaved together with the warm familiarity of Hegarty’s voice, allowing fans to enjoy a record which ends all too quickly.

Ulrike Gotts