British troubadour and his Dutch ensemble seize the zeitgeist to make its melody last.
It’s been five decades since this singer shed an apostrophe from the title of his solo debut and turned personal solace into COMFORT, reverting to collective creativity he had gotten used to in FAIRPORTS. But while many artists of same vintage landed on complacency later on, Iain Matthews is still attuned to the world’s affairs and still keeps his perspective fresh. Hence “The New Mine”: an album that’s both lyrical and acerbic, and also spiced up with a couple of covers whose choice would set the tone for the original tracks if those weren’t possessed with smouldering compassion.
Whether the answer to “Show me where your pain begins. Is this where my story ends?” will provide a skeleton key to the record and open doors to every cut on display, depends on the listener’s wish to share the band’s sentiment, and the infectiously rocking take on Ed Snodderly’s “Working In The New Mine” surely calls for joining in. And then there’s the spectral “Ethiopia” which pulls this record into focus, picking up where “Woodstock” – another Joni Mitchell’s cover and the group’s first hit in 1970 – left off, detaching the song’s context from its period and redefining it as a timeless piece, yet its a cappella intro is given a tick-tock for a rhythm. The resulting urgency are smoothed when country licks caress Matthews’ velvet voice, only the twangy “Feed It” has a similar clock-like quality, feeling frisky, even though the number’s love-minded message couldn’t be more serious, especially after “The Hands Of Time” has added a bitter air to honeyed harmonies and vocal phrases that get passed around and ebb away once ivories come to the fore and elevate the flow to the album’s spiritual plane.
Penned by the ensemble’s strings meister Bart-Jan Baartmans, the peaceful “Patty’s Poetry” seems to imply the “Radio Ethiopia” writer’s oeuvre (one’s ear won’t hear her name’s spelling, right?) but it bears the ripple of exquisite intimacy – the sort of warmth also filling the delicately rumble behind “Starvation Box” and the defiant “The Sacrificial Cow” – which doesn’t contrast “The Hole”… Or “the whole” because this tune keeps its eye on the entire world’s woes and insinuates that the title track and “Inbetween” point to a new state of mind. “I will be a wiser man,” sings Iain in “In My Next Life” suggesting he’s not been perfect in the current lap of existence, but that’s what’s great about Matthews’ songs: they’re leave space for further movement.
Slightly less varied than “Like A Radio” which preceded it, “The New Mine” isn’t the end of Iain’s story – there should, and surely will, be more.