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"Forest Fire"

Mat Gibson – Forest Fire
04 November 2011, 11:49 Written by Andy Johnson

Americana is a style of music which is not without its difficulties. Even its definition is troublesome: given its basis in a loose grouping of American roots musics, it could be argued that Americana is less a coherent concept than it is a convenient label for a radio format. If like Mat Gibson you enter into all this from a British rather than American perspective, things can be more complicated still.

On the basis of his new mini-album Forest Fire, it would seem that Gibson has wisely avoided confronting these issues and instead focused fully on honing his songcraft. The result is a sober and serious set of songs which will prove a challenging listen for casual audiences but which will reward those who share Gibson’s willingness to immerse himself in Americana’s complexities.

In the spirit of his predecessors Gibson’s songs are steeped in the atmosphere of North America’s natural environment, although it is not the US but rather the wilderness of north-eastern Canada which have provided Gibson with his muse. His two years living in Quebec explain the tendency towards lonely acoustic landscapes on Forest Fire. Especially given the sparse production by Rowland Prytherch, these songs channel a sense of isolation and introspection which some will relish even as others find it a little oppressive.

Although likely a real treasure for committed fans of its style, Forest Fire will be a more doubtful draw for a general audience. The more dramatic feel of ‘Yonder Burning Trees’ is the most accessible cut here, but in large part the songs can be a little one-paced to make for easy listening. For Gibson’s kindred spirits, though, there will be much to enjoy in moments like the one in ‘Jonah’ when Gibson mourns over piano, glockenspiel and his own guitar that, ‘you’ve dug your own damn grave’. If that’s not Americana, what is?

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