Ben Watt’s new album, Hendra, is unique for two reasons: 31 years between releases is possibly a record for the longest follow-up and the title has nothing to do with the deadly horse virus.
Hendra refers to the name of a road on which Watt’s sister bought a weekend property, however much of this album deals with the death of the English DJ and songwriter’s sibling two years ago.
During the `80s, Watt and wife Tracy Thorn turned out crafted, sophisticated pop as Everything But The Girl. Some of the group’s jazz-tinged melodicism hovers around Hendra’s songs such as Golden Ratio but for the most part its sound is languid folk with subtle, electronic undercurrents.
Watt’s 10 wistful, poignant songs are framed around loss and regret. On the hushed title cut he lays things bare when he sings: “Who am I fooling when I when I say I have no regrets?”
But this album is far from a maudlin wallow with cuts like Spring and Nathaniel uplifting and hopeful thanks to some sunny strings from ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler and radiant production from Ewan Pearson.
Elsewhere Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour lends his dreamy guitar signature to The Levels, one of Hendra’s standouts, while the retro, organ-drenched The Heart Is a Mirror closes the set on a soulful note.
There are moments where Hendra’s sound recalls Paul Weller’s more mellow moments circa Wild Wood and there are nods to John Martyn.
For a guy who helped set the template for trip-hop during 1990s, Watt makes a sharp stylistic shift on Hendra. It’s an evocative, impressionistic record set in English landscapes where the outer world comes inside.
Hendra is an intimate yet surprisingly warm collection of songs which charm with each listen.
* Ben Watt’s album Hendra (Unmade Road/Caroline) will be released on April 11.