Uptomusic (2/4/01, by Alex Van Loon)
Those who attended De Nachten festival in Antwerp or Amsterdam in January 2001 had the opportunity to experience the Sophia concert in person. In honour of the occasion, Robin Proper-Sheppard’s band was accompanied by a string quartet, and the addition created music that made a lasting impression. Yours truly was there in Antwerp and can assure you that it was a memorable event. Here is some background for those who aren’t familiar with Sophia: Robin Proper-Sheppard used to be the singer in The God Machine. In a melancholy mood he gathered a few friends and recorded a number of mellower songs, which later appeared on the 'Fixed Water' release. To his surprise, the CD was a success, especially in Belgium, and he was somewhat obliged to tour with Sophia. The shows were likewise a success, and a second album, 'The Infinite Circle', followed. And now a live CD, recorded during De Nachten. The release is dedicated to his daughter Hope, who we sang 'Happy Birthday' to during the show. There are quite a few new songs on this CD, including 'The Sea', 'Ship in the Sand' and 'Bad Man', and that in itself makes this CD a worthwhile purchase, as they are definitely among the best this notable songwriter has crafted so far. The fans will also recognise striking versions of such Sophia classics as 'So Slow' and 'The River Song', along with a pleasing cover of John Lennon’s 'Jealous Guy'. A sonic fireplace: gather around and enjoy the warmth.

Rifraf (April 2001, by rvb)
The Sophia concert during De Nachten festival is kind of like UFOs. Few have actually seen the phenomenon, but everyone knows someone who has a friend who saw it and the stories surrounding it are taking on a life of their own. For the non-believers, nomad-songsmith Robin Proper-Sheppard has committed the concert to CD. Yes, and? Everything you heard is true. A wrapt audience, a cartload of ethereal strings and a band clearly in its stride. It doesn’t take any more than that to make a truly memorable concert.
One thing that stands out on this live album is how just three old songs (‘So slow’, ‘If only’ and ‘The river song’) made it to the final selection. And yet the new songs seem to have no trouble carrying the concert and the CD. Also, a song like ‘Ship in the sand’, with its dreamily mumbled bit of lyrics “Forget the past, it’s just an ugly backdrop/That stains everything we try to believe in/Accept the things that failed love brings/And don’t project it on to anyone else”, has already become one of our all-time favourites. A sweet and unique moment shared with the audience between the successful Lennon-cover ‘Jealous guy’ and the inevitable finale ‘The river song’ is an unexpected highlight. Can’t handle the suspense a minute longer? Tough luck! You should have already visited your local record shop.

Kerrang! (July 2001, by Catherine Yates)
Live album of stark music from former God Machine singer. 4 out of 5.

Those who remember the apocalyptic portents delivered by brutal masters of thunderous rock dissonance The God Machine may also remember their shock at hearing Sophia for the first time. The stark, minimal and deeply vulnerable music was a direct contrast to the band singer Robin Proper Shepard dissolved upon the death of his friend and TGM bass player, Jimmy Fernandez.
Drawing more on the dynamics of country music than anything with a distortion pedal, this live album demonstrates the power of the understatement. Though Sophia live are eight members plus of string sections, guitars and pianos, Shepherd's stripped down songs of honest simplicity provide a more focussed emotional blow than many a rock act. Beautiful. (6/5/01, by Won Sin)
Robin Proper-Sheppard, Mastermind von Sophia, legt mit “De Nachten” ein wirklich schönes Livedokument vor.
Aufgenommen wurde das Werk beim De Nachten Festival in Amsterdam und in Antwerpen. Das Besondere daran ist, dass es überwiegend neue Songs zu hören gibt und dass dies eines der Sophia-Konzerte in Begleitung eines Streichorchesters ist. Schon der erste Song „The Sea“ besticht durch tieftraurige Melodien, die von den Streichern noch untermalt werden und bereits alleine den Kauf dieser CD rechtfertigen. Die wunderbare melancholische Stimmung und die angenehm naive Direktheit der Songs wird hier gut eingefangen. So kann man bei „So Slow“ einfach nur die Augen schließen, sich fallen lassen und sich einen überwältigenden Schauer nach dem nächsten über den Rucken laufen lassen. Auch „If Only“ klingt im neuen Gewand noch intensiver. Ein weiterer Höhepunkt ist „I Left You“, das sich so wunderbar dramatisch voran schleppt, dass mal wieder die Frage aufkommt, warum diese Band nicht einer größeren Hörerschaft bekannt ist. Schließlich passt sich das John Lennon-Cover „Jealous Guy“ hervorragend an, und das ist doch schließlich auch ein Evergreen geworden...
Solange es aber genügend Menschen gibt, die Sophia zu schätzen wissen, wird Robin Proper-Sheppard uns hoffentlich weiterhin mit solchen Songperlen beglücken und sich um eine kommerzielle Ausrichtung keine Gedanken machen. Schließlich lebt diese Musik von der Intimität und Ehrlichkeit, die heutzutage leider viel zu selten in der Musik auffindig zu machen sind. Wer lässt schon ein Geburtstagsständchen des Publikums als einen extra Track auf der CD, um die kleine Tochter glücklich zu machen? Eben!

Playlouder (23/8/01, by Tommy Udo)
This live album from Robin Proper-Sheppard's 10 piece collective is like a distant cousin of unhappy classics such as the gorgeous debut by The Czars two years ago and the recent Sparklehorse album 'It's A Wonderful Life'. It's part of a select and secret genre that could best be described as the sound of American men articulating their lives of quiet desperation through music. The debut album 'Fixed Water' and 1998's 'The Infinite Circle' painted a mental picture of a stark and empty interior landscape, of a man who was in the process of falling apart and accepting the situation. It was as if the most despair laden country and western songs were written by angst ridden English teachers instead of hillbillies, truck drivers and dirt farmers.
Recorded in Belgium and Holland during rare live shows at the beginning of the year, 'De Nachten' captures the highbrow blues of Proper-Sheppard to perfection. There's a chilling and uncharacteristically manic rendition of 'The River Song', right after he has made the audience sing 'Happy Birthday' to his daughter, a cover of John Lennon's 'Jealous Guy' which dispels any memory of Bryan Ferry's smootho de croon version and four new songs - including the monumental 'Ship In The Sand' - that hopefully mean that a new studio album is on the way. (by John Clarkson)
From the sea to the river....

Sophia's third album, and first live recording, the neo-orchestral 'De Nachten ', is a striking and evocative affair of the heart that runs a gamut of emotions from despair to hope, and from grief to intense joy.

Effectively the solo project of guitarist and vocalist Robin Proper-Sheppard, an American who has lived in London for the last thirteen years, Sophia first formed in 1995. Proper-Sheppard, who comes originally from San Diego, first came to Britain in the late eighties as the frontman in a discordant rock trio, the God Machine, who released two albums 'Scenes from the Second Storey' and One Last Laugh in the Place of Dying' on the Fiction Records label in the mid nineties. The God Machine broke up abruptly when their bassist, Jimmy Fernandez, died suddenly, the victim of a brain tumour, in 1994. While the band's drummer Ron Austin subsequently became a film maker, Proper-Sheppard, after a difficult year which he spent mourning his friend and out of music , formed in early 1996 a label, the Flower Shop Recordings. It has since put out records by the likes of Elevate, Ligament, and Swervedriver , and in September is due to release Copenhagen's debut album 'Tales from the Forest.' Later on in that same year he also began to write and perform songs under the Sophia banner.

While the God Machine combined together grinding metallics and rough-edged atmospherics, Sophia, although equally intense, in contrast have until now proved to be more low-key and introspective. With musical backing from some of the other artists on the Flower Shop Recordings, Proper-Sheppard has recorded two acclaimed studio albums, 'Fixed Water' (1996) and 'The Infinite Circle' (1998), under the Sophia moniker, which have drawn critical comparisions with Neil Young, Sparklehorse, Smog, Palace and Mazzy Star.

Although both 'Fixed Water' and 'The Infinite Circle' were country-influenced, 'De Nachten', which was recorded over two nights in January at a Dutch/Belgium musical festival in Amsterdam and Antwerp , finds Proper-Sheppard switching direction. Reminiscent of Barclay James Harvest, and also of the Bathers and the Blue Nile, it has a similar sense of the epic to the former's 'A Concert for the People (Berlin)', and merges this together with the latter two groups' sweeping orchestrations and carefully detailed aestheticism. As well as Proper-Sheppard, 'De Nachten' also features the talents of another nine musicians, including Elevate's James Elkington on guitar ; Delicatessan's Will Foster on piano and a four piece string section which has both Heist's Calina de La Mare and Copenhagen's Ruth Gottlieb on violins. There are radical new interpretations of three old songs ('So Slow', 'If Only' and 'The River Song'), four previously unrecorded songs ('The Sea', 'Ship in the Sand, 'Bad Man' and 'I Left You') and also a cover version of John Lennon's 'Jealous Guy'.

Of all the eight songs on 'De Nachten', it is ironically the Lennon classic that is least convincing and which leaves the least impression , proving to be pleasant but perfunctory, and adding little to the original. It is, however, a small flaw in what is an otherwise both inventive and engaging set. Emotive and charged, Proper-Sheppard's vocals are crystallised and sharp, and his simple, but directive lyrics tackle a powerful variety of moods with clarity and often self-deprecating honesty. The musicianship of all the ten players om the stage is also never anything than accomplished. Proper-Sheppard and Elkington's guitar work , Doug Thorp's bass and Jeff Townsin's drum provide a solid backbone, from which Foster's stabbing piano and the string section dip, weave and soar in and out.

'De Nachten' is opened by the six minute 'The Sea', which begins with a chiming, but insistent guitar solo to which the other instruments are slowly and forcefully added, and has Proper-Sheppard beckoning his love to run away with him to sanctuary of the ocean. It is closed with another redemption song 'The River Song' , a dervish Waterboys style waltz with sudden, grating guitars , which finds the vocalist, weary of himself, finding comfort and spiritual absolution in the river .

In between, on the mournful 'So Slow', the first song Proper-Sheppard wrote for Sophia after Fernandez’s sudden death, Proper-Sheppard reflects upon his friend's life and demise, while on the equally dark 'I Left You', he captures in a matter of a few short stanzas the guilt, hurt and shame that he feels after running out on a relationship. 'If Only' in contrast, however, is a tender, yearning love song, while 'Ship in the Sand' has him looking positively to start all over again.

Emotive, diverse, frank ‘De Nachten’ is an absolutely compelling experience. Both an excellent introduction to Proper-Sheppard’s work and also a worthy addition to the Sophia and the Flower Shop Recording's catalogue, it is, without doubt, one of the albums of the year. (by Fabrizio Massignani)
Robin Proper-Sheppard dev’essere un genio. O quantomeno uno che è nato per pensare, comporre e suonare grande musica. Stanno lì a dimostrarlo i due durissimi ed epocali lavori elettrici con i formidabili The God Machine, così come, finita drammaticamente con la morte del bassista Jimmy Fernandez quella prima esperienza, i due successivi dischi acustici tirati fuori con i Sophia. Dopo il passatempo chiamato May Queens ed in attesa di un nuovo album in studio da far uscire entro il 2001, per mantenere ancora vivo il nome degli stessi Sophia Robin decide di pubblicare questo "De Nachten", lavoro catturato live lo scorso gennaio in due successive serate ad Amsterdam e Antwerp. Tutto bene, se non fosse per il piccolo particolare che questo ‘riempitempo’ è anche album assolutamente magnifico. Riprendendo tre canzoni già edite su disco ed aggiungendo a queste quattro brani inediti e la cover di "Jealous Guy" di Lennon, Sheppard si circonda di pianoforte e quartetto d’archi per riempire di magia le proprie tracce, rallentando ulteriormente le già note "So Slow", "If Only" e "The River Song" per ottenere effetti da brivido, prima di toccare epici livelli d’interpretazione con le nuove "Ship in the Sand", "Bad Man" e soprattutto la strepitosa "The Sea" posta in apertura, concentrato dilaniante di speranza e dolore. Esattamente i temi che il singer/chitarrista americano ama affrontare da sempre, ancora distrutto da un traumatico divorzio vissuto in prima persona ma, forse proprio per questo, assolutamente perfetto quand’è il momento di mettere in musica drammatiche sensazioni d’amore morente, trasponendole in splendide ballad acustiche così intense da travolgerti il cuore, catturandolo nel profondo.
Insomma, pianoforte e voce, chitarre e violini, in canzoni che a tratti ricordano anche qualcosa dei voli a firma Godspeed You Black Emperor!. Peccato solo, perché un peccato c’è, che un disco talmente esaltante sia tarlato da una traccia come l’ottava, senza titolo, che non è musica ma solo la lunga esortazione fatta da Robin al pubblico per obbligarlo a cantare in coro Happy Birthday da dedicare alla figlia Hope nel giorno del suo compleanno. Un passaggio davvero patetico. Per il resto, invece, lavoro assolutamente da delirio. (by Jérémy Dagnies)
Cet album "live" réunit des chansons enregistrées le 12 janvier 2001 au Paradisio d'Amesterdam et le lendemain au "Singel" d'Anvers. Huit titres dont une reprise assez personnelle et surtout très réussie du " Jealous guy " de John Lennon. Lors de ces deux sets, Robin Proper-Sheppard était bien entouré de son groupe, mais également d'une section de cordes. Ce qui donne un aspect somptueux à l'interprétation des chansons de cet opus ; et en particulier celle du superbe final " The river song ". Un seul bémol, le " happy birthday " adressé à sa fille de 4 ans. Un moment sans doute privilégié, que l'artiste a sans doute voulu partager avec son public ; mais dont la reproduction sur CD fait un peu tarte…