If growing up listening to a father’s vinyl and being inspired by the storytelling of the likes of Dylan and The Eagles is a common enough story for many of the singer-songwriters that adorn this website then how best to introduce Mattias Lies without sounding cliched? Born and raised in a small village deep in the heart of Sweden, surrounded by its natural beauty and wilderness, it is perhaps unsurprising that a first visit to the USA should take Lies to the wilds of the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. It was here that Lies, affected by the warmth of the welcome he received and a familiarity in its landscape found the inspiration for his 5th studio album ‘Highs & Lows’.
Citing unspecified “dark and difficult times” Lies has tapped that bottomless source of life experience material so familiar to the singer-songwriter. Delivered in a nicely understated fashion, the songs are delivered with a warmth and simplicity that affords a much richer depth of sound than might be expected from such a musically sparse offering. Lies himself provides acoustic guitar, mandolin and harmonica but the subtly effective backing musicians add the occasional strings and harmonies, keyboards and pedal steel.
The overall effect remains that of a lone singer plying his trade, craving your attention with the warmth and emotiveness of his smooth vocals, but it these embellishments that lifts the album just a little above the pack in this oh so crowded genre.
To highlight one song that illustrates this observation then ‘Silver & Gold’ (acoustic version) is as good a place as any to start. Lies’ harmonica leads into a Donovan-esque vocal with brief but gorgeously evocative strings weaving in and out of a lovingly crafted song that ponders the life of an empty-pocketed busker plying his trade for dollars. ‘If I’m selling my soul, for silver and gold, how do I learn to know, how to love and to grow, while I’m growing old’.
There is a lovely warm glow that arrives with this album. It is a typically reflective piece of work, not uncommon in this genre, but at the back end of what has seemed like an interminably miserable year, it is, as a well-known Peruvian bear might have opined had he been so inclined, a marmalade sandwich for the soul on a dark December day.