Infinite Sky (10 reviews)

Opening with a percussive shuffle strum, the incredibly catchy This Beautiful Life ("it's a beautiful life if you live it, hold onto your nerve and roll with it") here is the latest despatch from the Best Duo, (BBC Folk Awards 2009) and a mission statement of the hope-against-all-odds ethic, that we've come to expect since their first collaborative recording back in 1996.

These purposeful songs crackle with a fine sense of detail - Chris' South America saying, "Come home soon, I'm right here", whilst Julie's Nie Wieder (Never Again) is an intimate and sorrowful backwards look. Here are narratives of experience, of resigned longing, warmly sung melodies that say whatever's happened, even when dark clouds are rolling, talk to me about it - we can work it out. Not for them the tearful mascara pillows of bruised loser stereotypes, these are strong and resilient women: they might sometimes falter but they don't fall. A deft meld of thought provoking and heartfelt lyricism, this album will speak to you - and then most likely put its arms around you!

Properganda

What is there to say? I long ago exhausted my thesaurus of superlatives when it comes to reviewing the duo’s albums, leaving me struggling to find the words to do them justice.

So, let me just start at the beginning with the joyously optimistic This Beautiful Life where, sounding like the Indigo Girls in their pomp they serve a timely reminder that ‘bad luck won’t last forever’ and that we should be looking beyond the horizon rather than no further than the end of the week.

Next up is one of Chris’s songs, a lilting missing you love song guitar waltz written on a sunny Melbourne morning that knows you don’t need new words to express feelings as old as time. Inconvenient Hero is the first of two of Julie’s storysongs, a biting indictment on the way the 911 rescue workers have been shut out of remembrance gatherings and that many are dying as a result of what they did that day because they have no health cover. A powerful message deserves a powerful melody, and Matthews does both justice.

The second number is Nie Weider (Never Again), a piano ballad (featuring Nancy Kerr’s fiddle and Andy Cutting’s melodeon) with a gypsy melody line that part echoes Janis Ian’s At Seventeen and a lyric about the persecution of Jewish athlete, Gretel Bergmann, in the run up to the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

They’re not the only ones inspired by world events, Shaky Town, the sole joint composition is an uptempo jazzy blues shuffle, with bubbling slide guitar from Martin Simpson, inspired by the 2011 Christchurch earthquake and the resilience of its citizens.

While has her own story song too, one that may well have been lifted from a news item, Broken Crash Barrier another jazzy blues track with a sort of choogling JJ Cale rhythm about a car crash in which both the occupant and would be rescuer (and song’s narrator) are drowned.

The remaining numbers are all relationship focused. From Chris there’s Come On Over (essentially her You’ve Got A Friend) and the slow swaying, pure voiced, Celtic-tinged parting of South America (Come Home Soon) with daughter Kellie on backing vocals while Julie’s tender love songs embrace the waltzing I Apologise, the starlit feel of Gravity and the near hymnal Appalachian colours of Hope Springs which features the album’s title and both Chris and Kellie on gorgeous harmonies.

Beautifully crafted and immaculately sung, at times disarmingly moving, at others joyously uplifting, and a superb new addition to an already illustrious catalogue, I’ve found the superlative to describe it. It’s a Chris While and Julie Matthews album.

Mike Davies
Net Rhythms

A mature easy listen & incredibly polished to boot. Well worth owning, both from a musical & audio perspective.9/10 for Recording 8/10 Music

Hifi+

Their pedigree is without question. Both are supreme songwriters & instrumentalist & it’s the union of their two wonderful voices which is the crowning glory with the emphasis being on the exquisite two part harmonies.

Rock Society

The quality of production is first rate, as is that of Chris & Julie's singing &, the addition of instrumental support from Martin Simpson, Nancy Kerr etc., all adds to a very classy album

Folk Diary

Infinite Sky is another fine album from Chris and Julie.

Folkin.com

An optimistic album, well produced.

Folk London

Nie Wieder - new track from Chris While and Julie Matthews on my show Sunday is a modern classic truly amazing.

Mike Harding
BBC Radio 2

South America has such beautiful lyrics, Chris writes with such depth

Bob Harris
BBC Radio 2

While & Matthews are dazzlingly good multi-instrumentalists but it’s their skill as close-harmony singers that defines their sound. Nie Wieder (Never Again), their tribute to German-Jewish athlete Gretel Bergmann, is outstanding

Daily Express
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Best of While and Matthews (7 reviews)

5 stars "A stunning collection of self-compositions & you've one of the most consistently impressive folk roots & singer-songwriter collections to be released this year"

Rock n Reel

A genuine selection of some of the best British contemporary acoustic songs of the last ten years. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.

Living Tradition

A self-compiled retrospective that’s highly recommended. They are good enough to hold their own on an international stage, & any future success which may come their way has been more than earned & consequently, well deserved. 4/5

Maverick Magazine

Best of… is a nice introductory sampler for newcomers to Chris & Julie, which should do the trick. It’s changed my attitude to their work & I’m beginning to appreciate them more.

Folk Diary

The best of these two is of course excellent and the only decision can have been what to leave out. 15 great tracks

Graham Radley
Maverick Magazine

The pair are a real credit to the British Music Industry

Country Music People

With the retrospective The Best Of, Chris & Julie show us what a fine musical catalogue they have pulled together over the last few years. Quality music

Folk North West
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Here and Now (16 reviews)

In many people’s opinion, mine included, Chris and Julie are the best female duo on the folk circuit today. ‘Here and Now’, their latest album, showcases their talents – as singers, musicians and, above all, songwriters - superbly. They even recorded and produced the album themselves as well as playing all the instruments.

The album kicks off, appropriately enough, with On My Way, a lively song featuring Julie on gazouki (a bouzouki built in the shape of guitar, in case you ask). The tempo then slows for The Here and Now, encouraging us to live for the moment, before Julie takes the lead vocals for the first time on the gentle Breathe.

The pleasant, sunshiny Flourish is balanced by the more sombre mood of Cover Our Eyes. Steady Breathing is a wonderfully original song featuring a delightful dulcimer and piano accompaniment. All Around the World, written as an antidote to the world’s troubles: “get ready for the swathe of love that must come soon”, is followed by Feel Good List – exactly that, a list of Chris and Julie’s favourite things, including: “the twelve apostles, the Indigo girls and any Beatles song”.

Innocent New Year, where they thank their lucky stars for their best year so far, features a nicely understated banjo solo from Chris before they sign off with the delightful harmonies of So Long Old Pal. At just ten songs and 40 minutes, the album is a little on the short side but that’s being picky. ‘Here and Now’ is just a sheer delight from start to finish.

Dave Emery

Sixth release and another mighty fine collection it is too with the added intimacy of a stripped down recording that gives a good feel of how superb they are live.

They serve up a perfect equation of great song writing, covering life and the emotions it evokes, super voices and harmonies and great musicianship. One to play over and again with the title track probably getting my vote as the best of 10 excellent tracks.

Graham Radley
World Unlimited/Roots & Branches

The backbone of the album, musically and thematically, lies with the marvellous Innocent New Year. With Chris While plucking the banjo and conjuring thoughts of the more backporch flavours of Alison Krauss or some old cowboy song, it recalls the faces of "friends strong and true" who "have carried me through" and looks to the promise of better days ahead. Owning this album would seem part and parcel of that.

Net Rhythms

I’m totally in love with this album, the 10 superbly crafted ballads are so beautifully performed that I find myself drawn to it time and again

Country Music People

With its sensitive ballads, stripped down production & instrumentation along with clever harmonies throughtout, this new release is set to expose them to a wider audience

Acoustic Magazine

They are 2 of the British folk scene’s biggest acts, & rightly so as they have stunning voices & write excellent thoughtful & literate songs.

Bristol Evening Post

These girls have voices as sweet as honey

Maverick Magazine

Another immaculate album from this team of excellent singer/songwriters

Folk Diary

Together they make up a formidable folk force, as this collection of melodic and sweet–harmonied songs demonstrates

Burton Mail

Here and Now is both an immaculately honest and tremendously immediate album

Folk Roundabout

Together they are one of the most established & successful duos on the folk circuit

The Living Tradition

Here and Now is smooth & sophisticated and so very, very well done

Tykes News

Two of the best singer/songwriters in the UK

Country Music People

This is a superb record & one of the best they’ve produced

Classic Rock Society

The voices blend perfectly in harmony but still have their own character in solo items

Folk London

Chris and Julie are the best female duo on the folk circuit today. Here and Now, their latest album, showcases their talents - as singers, musicians and, above all, songwriters - superbly.

Folk Mag on internet
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Quest (2 reviews)

Were it possible to bottle essence of good songwriting and performance, the chances are that it would be distilled at the While and Matthews brewery. Quest is the indomitable duo’s latest opus, is flawless.

Aided by the musical and production skills of e2K’s Kwame Yeboah, it’s a considerable departure from their previous albums. Love, loss, faith and reconciliation are the subjects covered with equal assuredness. Many of the songs have the status of ‘instant classics’, notably Walk the Line, Shadow of My Former Self, When I Come Down Again and the fantastic Ten Thousand Miles Away.

Quest cements While and Matthews’ position as two of Britain's most important singer/songwriters. Doubtless lesser talents will be queuing to cover many of these songs but, if you just need your faith in contemporary songwriting reaffirmed, buy it and be prepared to be awe-struck.

Bill Bellamy
Taplas

This is the third album from Chris and Julie as a duo and what a fine piece of work it is. They decided to involve the acclaimed Ghanaian musician Kwame Yeboah as producer and multi-instrumentalist on this current work and what an inspiration he is to this Quest.

Chris and Julie are a dream team already, both accomplished musicians in their own right; the bringing together of Chris who has one of the finest voices on the planet with Julie's perceptive and incisive song-writing skills already conjures a prospect of excellence and lo, here it is.

The music defies categorisation; some folk, some jazz, some folk-rock, some soft-rock all with an overlay of confidence and ease which only compares with the best of the genre - I would venture that the care taken in production of this album bears comparison with the best of James Taylor, Joni, Rickie Lee or Shawn Colvin.

It is difficult to choose outstanding tracks but for me those which feature the lead vocal of Chris While have the greatest sway. A single is to be released of Shadow of My Former Self which is an outstanding song and has all the necessary memorability to become a success chart-wise - come on Radio 2, you did it for Gordon Haskell!

These two girls have come a long way since their time in Ashley Hutchings' Albion Band but some of the old Albion strength goes on; Kelly While, Chris's daughter is currently lead vocalist with Albion and she puts in some nice backing vocals on Shadow of My Former Self and Blind Faith; the coming together of two generations in song - a kind of living tradition.

This album should be nominated for all sorts of awards, including the Mercury Prize, so make a start - Buy it!

Tony Kendall
Living tradition
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Hitting the Ground Running (1 review)

5* Review

Whenever the latest Chris While & Julie Matthews album arrives, it always goes without saying that you're going to be treated to an hour of quality music. It's then usually followed by a flick of the coffee percolator switch, maybe even worth risking a Kit-Kat at the same time, just to make the experience even more pleasurable. Once again this enduring duo fail to disappoint as they deliver another collection of 'keepers' bound in a beautifully photographed and handsomely designed package.

Chris and Julie share song writing duties on this their seventh studio album in fourteen years, where the voices seem to getting even better as the years roll by. This reviewer first caught Julie Matthews in action, as a very young performer singing Jackson Browne songs in Wentworth and instantly recognised that potential, as a promising interpreter of fine songs, not even considering that the singer would go on to write some of the most memorable examples of contemporary song writing. And still they come, twenty five years later and probably even better that before. The partnership that Julie has maintained with one of this country's finest singers, Chris While, continues to reap its rewards.

Whilst we're waxing lyrically here, it's nice to think in terms of songs having 'lives', where we entrust our song writers to deliver them safely to us. Rock of Gelt was born in February in a farm house nearby the historic Hadrian's Wall, where Julie collaborated with, amongst others, the young singer-songwriter Ruth Notman on the All Along the Wall project. On this album the song has been re-born as a potential Celtic classic with Troy Donockley's familiar pipes and Joe Broughton and Paloma Trigas' twin violins, together with an uplifting lighter-waving anthemic marching feel. What have the Romans ever done for us? Why they gave inspiration to two remarkable British songwriters for a kick off. The chanted refrain of : 'Daminius didn't want to do it' will be chanted in unison at many a concert to come I guarantee.

The song isn't the only highlight on HITTING THE GROUND RUNNING by any means, they tend to just jump out at every corner. Chris While's three contributions range from the beautifully tender The Coldest Winds Do Blow, with it's migrating geese metaphor, to the wonderfully evocative The Dark Side Wood, a gripping bluesy tale set against an Australian bush fire incident. On the other hand, Four Walls expresses introversion with a moment of contemplation; a piece of poetic soul searching that we privileged to observe.

Bridge Over Time, also from the Hadrian's Wall project is one of the most accessible songs on the album with its country feel and infectiously jaunty chorus, together with Joe Broughton's fine fiddle accompaniment. On We're Not Over Yet, Julie pays tribute to a generation of songwriters who furnished us with the benchmark for most writers to follow; Cynthia Weil, Lieber & Stoller and the like. If you want some tasty guitar playing on your song, look no further that Howard Lees. Although I probably wouldn't remember what Howard actually looks like, a good few years having lapsed since I saw him, when he was part of the Hobson Lees duo, I would never forget the sound of that distinctively jazz-dashed infused guitar.

Joined by a core trio of musicians, more that equipped to complete this rich musical canvas, the aforementioned Howard Lees on guitars, Neil Fairclough on bass and Bryan Hargreaves on drums, further contributions come courtesy of Joe Broughton and Paloma Trigas on violins and Emma Capp on Cello. Whilst Julie makes the ukulele probably the coolest instrument on the album, both on the opening song Carved in Stone and again on the invigorating title song, Hitting The Ground Running further demonstrates Julie and Chris's credentials as informed musicians as well as major British songwriters and performers.

Allan W.
Maverick Magazine
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