Pitchfork (Website) - "By the closing number, the pastoral 'New Year of Grace', Watt lets his British folk roots show, with Marissa Nadler playing Jacqui McShee to his Bert Jansch."
Uncut (magazine) - "Suffused in both the dread mortality inspires and the peace that comes with accepting its inevitability, it simultaneously addresses the effects that the passing of years has on one's relationships and the compromises these demand."
Personnel: Ben Watt (vocals, acoustic 12-string guitar, electric guitar, 6-string guitar, resonator guitar, piano, electric piano, synthesizer); Bernard Butler (electric guitar); Jim Watson (organ, synthesizer); Rex Horan (double bass, electric bass); Martin Ditcham (drums, congas, percussion); M.C. Taylor, Marissa Nadler (background vocals).
Audio Mixer: Bruno Ellingham.
Recording information: Northern Heights; RAK Studio.
Photographer: Paul Vanderwerf.
With 2014's Hendra, DJ, producer, label owner, and author Ben Watt resumed his career as a solo singer/songwriter after 31 years as a collaborator with Tracey Thorn (his wife) in Everything But the Girl. Fever Dream proves Hendra wasn't just a one-off to scratch an artistic itch. The complications of life events -- the death of his parents and step-sister, the changing nature of long-term relationships among his friends and family -- needed to be made sense of, and the songs wouldn't leave him alone.
With Bernard Butler returning on lead guitar, drummer Martin Ditcham, and upright bassist Rex Horan, Watt delivers ten new songs that delve into the joys, conflicts, ends, and renewals of love of many kinds.
Self-produced, these songs are rendered with Watt's requisite grace and attentiveness, not only to sound and words, but also to musical inspirations. Opener "Gradually" engages his love for Neil Young and Crazy Horse with Butler's distorted, stuttering electric guitars, sweet vocal harmonies, and lyrics that reference the loss of self that occurs with the first rush of love, and the doubt that emerges as time passes: "No words are on your lips/we pass like silent ships/Can I prove we exist/Where are the hours we missed/This summer night is clear/I still want you near/I don't know where I am/or who I used to be." The title track reflects the weight of everyday life on passion. It contains a jazzier feel, with hand percussion and slippery guitar chords that recall John Martyn in his post-Grace & Danger period; Hiss Golden Messenger's M.C. Taylor makes a guest vocal appearance. The grain in each of their voices etches its own stark portrait of romantic uncertainty.
The tone of the recording shifts halfway through; the themes become more accommodating if not celebratory. The music is more delicate, but no less poignant. Watt's love of the iconic hybrid of Pentangle's British folk-jazz emerges in the gorgeous "Faces of My Friends." In "Running with the Front Runners," a dreamy bossa rhythm slips effortlessly amid acoustic and electric guitars and sparse, atmospheric keyboards. Set-closer "New Year of Grace," with backing vocals from Marissa Nadler, counterbalances the doubt and darkness in "Gradually." Fingerpicked, minor-key acoustic guitar, and a well-placed, intermittent cello, flute, and upright bass underscore Watt singing about the unexpected and sometimes shattering moments of beauty that emerge in relationships -- when one is willing to absorb their difficulties rather than run from them.
Watt interrogates love and its stages thoroughly on Fever Dream, yet in the end he unequivocally affirms it. His songs are resonant with the weight of experience, and his musical settings, even in their relative sparsity, are powerful and at times nearly elegant. ~ Thom Jurek