Blanco Y Negro - 2003 - 37 minutes

"When I was sad and blue/you were my friend constant and true", Cerys Matthews sings in her ode to Chardonnay, the opening track on 'Cockahoop'. These days, the former Catatonia star is more likely to be spotted sipping herbal tea after her time at rehab and success in her quest to kick the bottle. That's not all that's changed. While the often-underrated Catatonia made guitar-based indie pop, marking their place in history with a handful of radio hits, Matthew's debut solo album shows a new departure for the Welshwoman and a penchant for all things country.

The genre suits her. Matthews has assembled a band of Nashville musicians and her rich, guttural voice - one of the most distinctive in the business - lends itself nicely to the backdrop of slide guitars and banjo. The 34-year-old chronicles her journey from near breakdown (it was her drinking that ultimately finished off Catatonia) to finding love and eventually happiness.

With a running time of just 37 minutes, 'Cockahoop' certainly doesn't outstay its welcome. Fans of her former band won't be too disappointed; the sing-a-long choruses are gone but in their place is a more grown-up and experimental sound.

The tone throughout is one of optimism and calm; Cerys Matthews sounds like a woman enjoying life again. Nowhere is this more evident than on 'Louisianna', a lively, banjo-led jaunt; country music like it's meant to sound. If you don't find yourself slapping your thigh in glee, perhaps you should check your pulse - just to make sure there is one.

There are other moments of loveliness: 'Only A Fool' wouldn't have sounded out of place on any of Catatonia's albums. And it's all summed up very nicely on the gospelly 'All My Trials'.

If this album is Matthew's form of catharsis, lending a sympathetic ear is a pleasure.

Anne-Louise Foley

Tracklisting: Chardonnay - Caught In The Middle - Louisianna - Weightless Again - Only A Fool - La Bague - Interlude - Ocean - Arglwydd Dyma Fi - If You're Looking For Love - The Good In Goodbye - Gypsy Song - All My Trials