review on ‘The New Mine’..

Op het album “The New Mine” vinden we opnieuw meerdere pareltjes terug waarvan we vooral de songs “The Hands Of Time”, eerste single “Feed It” (zie video), “C’mon Amigo”, “A Secret Is Gone”, het lekker swingende “Inbetween” en de retrospectieve slotballad “In My Next Life” ter beluistering willen aanbevelen. read more on Review Page

Review from At The

Matthews Southern Comfort – The New Mine

By John Barlass on 27th February 2020

Released: 27th March 2020

Iain Matthews is probably the finest British exponent of the ‘Americana’ musical genre.  Ever since his departure from Fairport Convention in 1969, it is an avenue that he has explored to great effect if, perhaps, only sporadically achieving the success and recognition that his talent and perseverance so richly deserves.  Of course, from the early 1970s until the dawn of the current millennium, Iain was based in the US, where he was able to hone his songwriting and interpretational skills, catching the attention of such influential figure as Michael Nesmith and The Eagles.

Those readers familiar with the name Matthews Southern Comfort will no doubt recall that the band’s most high-profile moment occurred when they occupied the Number One position in the UK singles chart for a period of 3 weeks in October 1970 with their version of Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock. Although fairly typical of the band’s country-flavoured, pedal-steel driven melodic rock music, Woodstock was by no means the only outstanding example of the band’s repertoire and they were responsible for two excellent albums, Second Spring and Later That Same Year, both released in 1970, and both well worth a listen (neither have aged a day!)

Iain left Matthews Southern Comfort in 1971 and the name of the band lay dormant until it was revived in 2010 when Iain, backed by a group of top-notch Dutch musicians (he relocated from the US to The Netherlands in 2000) released the Kind Of New album under the old name.  The New Mine is the fourth Matthews Southern Comfort album since the name was revived and Iain has enlisted the services of Bart Jan Baartmans (acoustic, electric and resonator guitars, mandolin, sitar, bass and banjo), Bart de Win (acoustic and electric pianos, accordion and backing vocals) and Eric De Vries (acoustic guitar and vocals) to deliver an album which expertly and entertainingly travels the path from British Folk Rock to full-blown Americana.

The choice of musicians and instruments is inspired.  The band gel perfectly together, both in the construction and delivery of the songs and in the compositional collaborations that dominate the album.  Compositional credits cover several combinations of the band’s personnel, with Iain Matthews linking with each in turn to produce some excellent songs.  Notable amongst these collaborations are C’mon Amigo, a song by Iain and Eric which contains some marvellous vocal harmonies and would be worthy of inclusion on any Eagles album; The Hole is a Matthews/de Win effort that makes scary references to the destruction of the ozone layer and its growing consequences for the planet and In My Next Life, composed by Bart Jan Baartmans and Iain, offers shrewd philosophical tips to anyone fortunate enough to relive their life applying the experiences that they have gathered.

The album opens with a version of the Joni Mitchell song, “Ethiopia” (from her 1985 Dog Eat Dog album).  This is, perhaps, appropriate, given the long association in the minds of many people between Joni and Matthews Southern Comfort.  The version on this album is sublime with sprinklings of piano and some tasteful guitar work which both set the tone for the musical treats to come.  Sadly, the subject matter of the song – the plight of the people in the African deserts and the indifference of the West, remains as current as it was when the song was written, which provides all the justification necessary for reviving the song.

Of Iain’s solo compositions, my highlight is Starvation Box; a story of an itinerant musician which builds excitingly and which contains some wonderful slide guitar work.

Some may question the relevance of crediting this, albeit tremendous, album to Matthews Southern Comfort; after all, the only constant thread between the outfit that operated in the early 1970s and the band on The New Mine is Iain Matthews.  I would, however, strongly challenge this view.  The personnel may be different but the sound and intent of the band pick up precisely where the original band left off, even to the extent that Gordon Huntley’s missing pedal steel licks that were so much a feature of the 1970 incarnation are precisely replicated by Bart Jan Baartman’s guitar.  Happily, also, Iain’s melodic voice is not only as good as ever, it is enhanced by the vocal support of Bart de Win and Eric De Vries.  The New Mine is very definitely a Matthews Southern Comfort masterpiece.

Matthews Southern Comfort will be appearing at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention during the afternoon of Saturday 15 August.  I, for one, can’t wait!

Review The New Mine on Folking..

The New Mine is the second wonderful blast from the re-constituted Matthews Southern Comfort.

A little history: I had lost track of Iain Matthews. But Like A Radio was a seismic surprise. And this new The New Mine is a very welcome and melodic aftershock. Both albums groove with carefully arranged and then re-arranged ‘Throwaway Street Puzzle’ pieces of rock, folk, pop, and (a touch of) jazz.

The New Mine begins with a brilliant rendition of Joni Mitchell’s brilliant song, ‘Ethiopia’. The tune oozes concern for humanity. Of course, Matthews Southern Comfort’s first big single years ago was a take on Mitchell’s ‘Woodstock’, and the two songs compress the years into very simple plea for a more intelligent, melodic, and vital world. Iain’s voice sings with a deeper pathos than his 70’s recordings, and even touches the raw passion of Bruce Cockburn.

‘The Hands Of Time’ ups the gospel ante and conjures joyous comfort, while confronting a time “when the sleep won’t come”. This song dips into the same spring water as The Band, spring water that flows with a pure and sepia melody.

Now, Robert Palmer had a big hit song with ‘Simply Irresistible’. I think he was singing about a woman. But the same could be said of ‘Feed It’. The tune bulges with a quick melody, a lively lyric, a soulful chorus, and an (almost) 50’s hamburger joint vocal. The songs buzzes with joy, a fluid acoustic guitar solo, and a jazzy piano. Sometimes, even pop music gets to touch the heavens.

And then the album dives into deeper waters. ‘Patty’s Poetry’ has a very catchy chorus and a friendly electric guitar. The title track is bluesy, acoustic, and piano jazzy with a very modern message that seconds the motion of fellow ex-Fairport Richard Thompson’s song that warns, “We’re all working for the Pharaoh”. Then, ‘Starvation Box’ begins with ‘Battle Of Evermore’ Zep thought, but then dissolves into the tale of a Vietnam vet who “won’t go back”. Of course, they nab the guy! And a nice guitar circles the defiance and deep psychology of the song.

A little more of history: Iain sang Fairport’s ‘Meet On The Ledge’. And that song is tattooed on the soul of any British folk-rock lover. ‘Nuff said! The original Matthews Southern Comfort cut three albums of folk music that gave a big wave to west coast Americana music. Then, there was a series of (blessed) solo records, the first two on the (equally blessed) Vertigo label. He moved to Elektra. These albums were tapestries of self-penned and covered songs that, despite their near-perfect beauty, never really sold many copies. He also played in Plainsong with Andy Roberts on guitar and recorded the very great album In Search Of Amelia Earhart. Then countless labels and countless records, including albums with Elliot Murphy and David Surkamp (of Palov’s Dog fame!) proved that Iain, when singing Richard Thompson’s words, did “really mean it” way back in Fairport history.

And, by the way, fans of (the great) Gene Clark and Mason Proffit (of ‘Two Hangmen’ and ‘Eugene Pratt’ fame) will find lots to love in those early solo records.

And now he has resurrected MSC with new members Bart Jan Baartmans, Bart de Win and Eric De Vries in a band that echoes the great sound of Steely Dan or the pop-rock perfection of China Crisis. This album also cuts similar grooves with Nick Lowe’s all over the place Jesus Of Cool (known in America as Pure Pop For Now People). So, this is quite serious rock, folk, pop, and (sort of) jazz stuff.

But, as I often quote Procol Harum, “Still there’ll be more”. ‘C’mon Amigo’ is country acoustic music that hovers in harmonious west coast folk rock beauty, with banjo and accordion breaths. ’The Hole’ slows time and asks the necessary questions about the future of all we hold so dear. The chorus, again, is a melodic exclamation sing-a-long pointed truth that overwhelms cynicism and demands an answer. ‘A Secret Is Gone’ is yet another accordion pulsed tune with urgent psychological plot. If this covers some of the same catchy ethos of the before-mentioned Nick Lowe’s Pure Pop For Now People, it also sings to the Pure Pop People who enjoy good and intelligent rock music.

The final three songs stretch the album to its finish line. ‘The Sacrificial Cow’, again, returns to gospel spring waters, with the nice touch of jazz piano. ‘Inbetween’ rolls with New Orleans flavour, and recalls the easy Big Muddy flow of Bobby Charles’ classic 1972 self-titled album. And then ‘In My Next Life’ is acoustic and confessional soft passion that sits well beside Rick Danko’s take on Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ from The Band’s Moondog Matinee. It’s a really nice final thoughtful groove.

Way back a long time ago, Iain sang his song, ‘Knowing The Game’ on his Journeys From Gospel Oak album that professed, “You may be taken down, you may be written off, it’s knowing how to stay the same, knowing how to play the game”. Sure, the good stuff always “comes around again”, and this is really good stuff, stuff that knows “how to play the game” but it still tent stakes a tough soul “to stay the same”, and then manages, against a lot of odds, to create yet another Iain Matthews album of near-perfect beauty.

Bill Golembeski

Review in German.. for

1969 stieg Iain Matthews bei FAIRPORT CONVENTION aus, nur um 1970 mit seinen Ex-Kollegen das MATTHEWS SOUTHERN COMFORT-Album einzuspielen. Zur Band wurde das MSC-Projekt nach einer Umbesetzung, die im gleichen Jahr zwei weitere Alben einspielte. MATTHEWS SOUTHERN COMFORT gelang das Kunststück, die erfolgreichste Version der „Woodstock“-Hymne einzuspielen. Dies trotz der starken Konkurrenz durch die Komponistin und Originalinterpretin Joni Mitchell sowie die raue Crosby, Stills & Nash-Variante, die fast gleichzeitig veröffentlicht wurde.

Es folgten weitere Umbesetzungen, Matthews ging auf Solopfaden fremd, gründete 1972 PLAINSONG, nahm weiter Soloalben auf, verschwand ganz aus dem Musikbusiness, kehrte zurück und entschied sich irgendwann im neuen Millennium MATTHEWS SOUTHERN COMFORT in erheblich verjüngter (und niederländisch geprägter) Besetzung wiederzubeleben. Das führte 2010/11 zu der Veröffentlichung „Kind Of Love“, später ergänzt um die Live Einspielung „Kind Of Live“. Eine siebenjährige Veröffentlichungspause folgte, die 2018 mit „Like A Radio“ ihr Ende fand. Matthews ist halt ein unsteter Geist und immer für Überraschungen gut.

Musikalisch nicht unbedingt, was im vorliegenden Fall aber kein Manko ist. Denn „Like A Radio“ ist ein wohl austariertes Werk, das äußerst gefühlvoll und lässig seine Bahnen zwischen Folk, Americana, Softrock und ein wenig Jazz zieht. Matthews singt auch mit 71 noch, als hätte er nichts als Honig und Balsam gefrühstückt, seine Band agiert mit geradezu schlafwandlerischer Sicherheit. Die Melodien sind von genussreicher Schönheit, die Refrains besitzen eine fast beiläufige Einprägsamkeit, die ihnen einen hohen Wiedererkennungswert garantiert, sie aber nicht mit Penetranz in Gehörgänge und Bewusstsein hämmert.

Die Instrumentierung ist erlesen und vielfältig, doch nicht überladen. Das klingt nie angestrengt, ist bei den akustischen Gitarren farbenfroh und präsent und beim Einsatz der elektrischen ohne jede Kraftmeierei. Gitarrist Bart Jan Baartmans spielt zudem Mandoline, Sitar, Banjo und weitere Saiteninstrumente, die für höchst abwechslungsreiche Klänge sorgen. Die Rhythmussektion agiert ebenfalls breitgefächert und sorgt für ein feingewebtes Grundgerüst. Zieht dabei elegante Zurückhaltung stupidem Drauflosprügeln vor. Akustisches- und E-Piano sind für die leicht jazzige Note zuständig und setzen Höhepunkte nicht nur während der ersten beiden Stücke.

Obwohl düstere Thematiken angeschnitten werden, „Thought Police“ oder „Welcome To The Age Of Isolation“, strahlt „Like A Radio“ eine unheimliche Wärme aus. Liegt an Matthews warmer raumfüllender Stimme, dem gekonnten Satzgesang, und der Fähigkeit der Band dem Einfachen Komplexität zu entlocken, kurz Folk-Rock, der sich aus Erfahrung speist und gelebter Musik. MATTHEWS SOUTHERN COMFORT agieren auf Augenhöhe mit musikalischen Verwandten June Tabor, Christy Moore, Luka Bloom oder Van Morrison. Ausnahme ist lediglich das besonders im Refrain schlicht gestrickte „To Love“ (hat instrumental allerdings ein paar coole Passagen. Peter Frampton in der Nähe?). Davon abgesehen kann es sich die Band sogar leisten, einen der stärksten Songs des Albums als Abschluss der Bonus-Sektion zu bringen.

FAZIT: MATTHEWS SOUTHERN COMFORT brillieren 2018 mit der Kunst, eindringliche Songs mit einer ungeheuer lässigen, aber nie unambitionierten, Selbstverständlichkeit einzuspielen. Die düsteren Themen strafen den „Woodstock-Mythos“ Lügen, die Musik lässt hingegen ahnen, was sich in den letzten Jahren verändert hat und was erhaltenswert erscheint.Jochen König (Info)

Book review Northern Sky

Thro’ My Eyes: A Memoir – Iain Matthews 

Star rating: 4****

Thro’ My Eyes

I picked up Iain Matthews’ autobiography during the break between two sets at an intimate Matthews’ Southern Comfort gig in an unassuming Pontefract pub, having just witnessed a rather fine opening set from the vantage point of a front row seat. I don’t think I had any intention of buying this book or any book for that matter, having far too many piled up on the arm of my sofa at home awaiting attention, yet there was something that drew me to this book. Perhaps it was due to the fact that both Iain Matthews and his ghost writer/helper Ian Clayton were present at the pub on this particular night; it could have had something to do with the sudden realisation half way through the band’s opening set that I knew little about its subject, other than the fact that he was in an early incarnation of Fairport Convention, that his was the first voice to be heard on the band’s torchlight song Meet on the Ledge, that his next band had a smash hit with Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock, that his other band Plainsong appeared on the Old Grey Whistle Test one evening just as I was preparing books for school the next morning. Added to these hazy recollections was the memory of seeing a later incarnation of Matthews’ Southern Comfort more recently at a winter festival in Skeggy of all places and that I actually got to speak to him backstage for a good half hour. What else did I need to know? Well lots apparently.

The title of Thro’ My Eyes is taken from an early song on Iain’s debut solo record If You Saw Thro’ My Eyes, the LP with the swirling Vertigo label that’s currently on the player as I write, and suggests the book’s intention from the start, to explore a life very much lived from the author’s personal perspective. It’s pretty much a warts and all memoir, which takes us on a journey from an early Northern childhood in both Scunthorpe and Barton-upon-Humber, through to the bright lights of Piccadilly Circus and Carnaby Street in the ‘Swinging Sixties’, and on through his earliest involvement in music, to his middle years in the States and more recently that of mainland Europe. One or two loose ends are neatly tied up for us, such as the question of the McDonald/Matthews, Ian/Iain confusion, which is all explained here and is notably far less pretentious than initially imagined.

Though the story takes us from one exciting episode to another, where we see evidence of Iain’s brushes with a veritable list of high profile musicians (Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Richard Thompson, Eric Taylor), there’s also an inherent sadness that looms in the shadows, occasionally present on the songwriter’s furrowed brow in some of the pictures included and sometimes in the words of his songs. Songs are an important part of Iain Matthews’ story and each chapter here is prefaced by lyrics from his prolific back catalogue. If like me, you have the rare ability to multi-task and are not particularly fazed by listening to music as you read, having a handful of Iain’s records by the player can be useful.   

Iain can be candid in his revelations and refuses to shy away from his own insecurities, his open confessions of possible family neglect whilst in search of his own muse, his disappointments, his distrust in others, his episodic relationships and his mistakes and miscalculations along the way. This is an honourable quality throughout the book although occasionally you want to shake him. Through the decades though, we see a singular artistic bent and a desire to make good music and write great songs, both alone and in the company of others, a pursuit that continues to this day and that will no doubt go on until mortality becomes a tangible issue.

Allan Wilkinson

Northern Sky

Review on MSC concert in Robin2 in Bilston UK.

Matthews Southern Comfort did a show with Magna Carta in the Robin2 on October 30th. For the full review visit: Midlandmania.wordpress

“…More to the point, his shimmering alto vocals have remained undimmed by the passing of the years: the only slight change is in the addition of an oak-aged gravitas and venom (especially on newer, more lyrically bitter compositions like Bits And Pieces or Age Of Isolation) that was sometimes absent from his earlier work, and it’s no bad thing. Moreover, in structuring the set so that new songs rub shoulders with old classics like And Me (Say A Prayer), Darcy Farrow or Mimi & Richard Farina’s Blood Red Roses, Matthews- these days a Dutch resident, surrounded by an entirely Dutch lineup who undoubtedly bring a flavour of that country’s ownpop heritage to the group’s already potent blend of English folk and Americana- deftly highlights the continuity between both eras, thus also drawing attention to their finest elements….”

“…Of course, even back in ‘69, MSC were never a one-man show: indeed, by way of demonstration that this is and has always been a band (with, might I add, six fine studio albums in total under its belt) and even within the group itself, the emphasis (though its past should never be ignored) is very much on presenting the band as it exists now, both as composers and interpreters of others’ material (a balance Matthews has repeatedly favoured since the 60s) Thusly, acoustic six-stringer Eric Devries- in addition to his contributions to the ensemble’s already exceptional four-part harmonies – also asserts himself with a fine lead vocal on Mare, Take Me Home: meanwhile, electric guitarist/mandolinist/ all-rounder Bart Baartmans (leave your tedious Simpsons jokes at the door please) is a revelation, letting rip with several tasteful solos throughout that call to mind both his fellow countryman Chris Koerts (Earth & Fire) and a more restrained version of Matthews’ former bandmate Richard Thompson….”

“…Sadly, there’s nothing in the set tonight from the original band’s much-underrated eponymous third album, but further “golden greats” surface late on in the shape of To Love and (obviously) Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock, the sole UK no 1 hit ever enjoyed by any former Fairport Convention member (now there’s a top music quiz trivia fact for you) Recognised as radically different from its creator’s original version even at the time of its release, it’s since been reworked yet again, its new vocal refrain and tempo showcasing yet another unexpected development in the fascinating history of this most iconic “hippie dream” composition: if anything, it actually now resembles its writer’s Miles Of Aisles version more than anything else, albeit with the funky backbeat replaced by the thrumming piano and Rhodes sounds of keyboardist Bart De Win. Yet another concealed weapon in the band’s already resplendent armoury, he also excels on further newies Like A Radio and (by way of unexpected encore) Crystals On The Glass: so much so, in fact, it almost seems a shame to cut him off in his prime….”

Forever destined to remain two of this country’s best-kept insider secrets, both Matthews and Simpson are gracefully gliding through their 70s with all the poise and invention of the true artists they are: though outwardly different, both are capable of stealing the listener away from the mundanity of everyday life and into a mystical fireside land of song, and for my own part, I’m overjoyed that glad this gig- allegedly cancelled and rebooked about five times- finally went ahead. And, from the 300-plus turnout tonight, it would seem the West Midlands’ folk-rock fanbase in general shares my enthusiasm. Verily and indeed, and with a hey nonny nonny tooralay.

By Darius Drewe

First book review…

.. If there was an award for the role of Godfather of Americana in the UK, serious consideration would have to go to Iain Matthews as a deserving nominee… read here what Rick Bayles writes about ‘Thro’ my Eyes’.