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Wendy Matthews

WENDY MATTHEWS

BASED: SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA

Some records knock you sideways, forcing you to rethink your preconceptions. Wendy Matthews’ Café Naturale is one of those records. It’s a mixed up, chilled-out record that’s partly bound up in memories of songs you fell in love to, made new friends with, talked and laughed and fought through. But mixed amongst these are some surprises that will be new to the listener and some gems that will bring back more subtle memories. The music immediately evokes a feeling of familiarity which is a testament to Wendy Matthews – her voice, her poise and her extraordinary gift for interpretation. Qualities that have entranced millions since the release of Wendy’s debut album in 1990. Qualities that seem more powerful and unique with each passing year. This eclectic suite of songs on Café Naturale is drawn from different time zones in our musical history.

They are rendered here as a melodic feast of lush, acoustic soundscapes that cradle Matthew’s unmistakable voice, while taking her into new territory that proves she’s no stranger to reinvention. “I’ve really enjoyed recording this album and felt the songs came together so naturally,” says Matthews of her sixth solo album. She is, of course, known for her hauntingly beautiful vocals and has seven ARIAs to her name, not to mention the seminal albums Lily, Émigré and The Witness Tree. The Canadian-born singer joined her first blues band aged 15, then embarked on a career that would see her sing her way to Australia in 1983 to set up home on these shores. Though she shifted to a coastal haven outside Coffs Harbour two years ago, Matthews called Bondi home for years. “I spent a lot of time in my favourite cafe there listening to records. There’s nothing like a song to bring you back to a specific moment or feeling in time.” Add this element to the way the album was recorded – stripped-back and unadorned. This lead Wendy very naturally to the title of Café Naturale. The songs are special too. “Even I’m surprised by some of the song choices,” admits Matthews of the final track list. “Once we got into the studio the record started to reveal its personality to me. It all came together and the songs, these very melodic songs, started to make themselves known. It just worked.” Matthews enlisted the help of producer Michael Szumowski.

They picked only those songs that were pure magic in the studio, from Moon Beneath My Feet by obscure Irish writer Naoise Sheridan through to Al Green’s Love and Happiness, All I Need by French lounge lizards Air and the classic Australian song Short Note by Matt Finish. Recorded in Sydney’s Tiger Studios with the help of some of the finest musicians in Australia, Café Naturale was laid down on good old-fashioned tape without resorting to any of the studio trickery (programming, looping, auto-tuning) that adorns most contemporary albums. Tracks were tried and tested with the band before making it onto the record, and in many instances played live in the studio. The band – including Brett Hirst (Vince Jones, Sydney Symphony Orchestra) on bass, Felix Bloxsom (Alex Lloyd, Sia) on drums, Brendan St. Ledger (Marcia Hines/Delta Goodrem) on piano and Jak Housden (The Whitlams) playing guitar – spent long days jamming, developing the sophisticated grooves and atmospheres that Matthews and Szumowski had originally envisaged.

To add to the authenticity of the sound, Matthews sang into the microphone used by legendary Frank Sinatra during his infamous 50’s Australian tour.” I think it’s human nature to box people in, just in terms of reference in order to understand what it is they do…but I resist it,” she says. “To keep creative you have to break down your own personal barriers. With this record that meant moving away from pop and crafting something instrument-driven, something that feels like me playing live. So this is an acoustic album, taking a very eclectic selection of songs – some original, some not, some old, some new – and turning them around, completely stripping them back to make them something else.

” The album’s cover art was created by enigmatic artist Bruno Dutot, the man behind the “painted lady” street mural which has become a local landmark on Sydney’s Edgecliff Road. “Every time I come to the city I drive past her, see if she’s changes,” explains Matthews. “Sometimes she’ll have a cat or be standing in snow. Though you never see her face, she’s come to symbolise Sydney for me.” When Matthews chanced on Dutot she commissioned him to paint a lady in her own image for Café Naturale. A genius stroke indeed. Just as the painting is open to interpretation, so the music is what you make of it. It has a secret life. Music to love to, music to learn to, music to move you, music to cry to…”In a way this record has seemed charmed,” says Matthews. “It feels like magic’s happening. Hopefully that’s something people will pick up on. I’d love for this record to travel by word of mouth, maybe play in someone’s favourite café and inspire a few memories.”


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