Matthews Southern Comfort: Like A Radio
It’s been nearly half a century since the initial Matthews Southern Comfort album, and Like A Radio is the first in nearly a decade, a bonafide testament to the timeless quality of its namesake’s best work (not mention how it predated today’s Americana). Since his days in Fairport Convention, continuing into solo work that carried him to collaborations with Michael Nesmith and more pop-oriented work into the Nineties, Iain, nee Ian, Matthews has charted his own course as an artist, sufficiently self-motivated to know when pursue his own independent course, yet equally willing and able to collaborate as he does here.
On a dozen artfully-sequenced tracks, multi-instrumentalist Bart Jan Baartmans, keyboardist Bart de Win and singer/songwriter Eric Devries coalesce with the leader to replicate the sound of the original band, encapsulated by their famed rendition of Joni Mitchell’s 1970 tuned, “Woodstock.” This stylistic resemblance further reaffirmed with three additional remakes from earlier MSC releases (including James Taylor’s “Something in the Way She Moves”) on an expanded CD that runs over sixty-minutes , this folk-rooted, vocal harmony-laden approach is a far cry from the jazz-oriented, often baroque leanings of Matthews’ most recent solo endeavors.
The photo of the group’s musical instruments on the front cover of this LP may signal the irony of its title, yet in keeping with Iain’s down-to-earth demeanor, it is far more apropos of the natural affinity for each other these four core musicians display in writing, singing and playing here. Produced by Baartmans, this album is no exercise in nostalgia, as evinced by the way Matthews and company touch upon aspects of modern global culture on “The Thought Police:” they couch this topicality in a sparkling but soft mix of delicate singing and the twinkling of acoustic guitars that offer the barest hint of country music.
The glowing electric piano very effectively contrasts those textures, an effect continued in the sly titlesong; here is where it becomes apparent Like A Radio is an album in which to become deeply immersed for the sound quality alone, despite the fact there are no solos much longer than the acoustic piano there. Matthews Southern Comfort circa 2018 takes a nuanced, insinuating approach, and the bandleader’s own voice is fundamental to that inviting air, even when the material at hand is as potentially off-putting as “The Age of Isolation.”
Yet the dispassionate thinking at the root of that song, like the bulk of this collaboratively-composed material, signals the maturity of a group convinced that the passage of time has its advantages. As captured on this recording, the sound a is naturally warm, at once spare and lush (somehow) and those virtues, for some listeners, may camouflage an unflagging certainty of purpose evident within originals such as “Bits and Pieces.” Precious little here offers direct obeisance to roots as does the semi-reel “Crystals On the Glass,” but here as elsewhere, the comparative brevity of the track works in its favor.
And the wry sense of humor Matthews Southern Comfort displays during “Jive Pajamas” reaffirms the wisdom of this grouping, not mention its timely release. Over the course of time, Like A Radio should demonstrate a durability comparable to its predecessors (and so many of Mathew’s other work). But early listens to the record illuminate how gracefully its leader has aged; no longer the waif with the boyish countenance, there remains a dignity in Iain Matthews’ greying visage corresponding to the burnished instrumental and vocal strains that populate this record and render it so affecting.
Track Listing: The Thought Police; Like A Radio; The Age Of Isolation; Bits And Pieces; Darcy Farrow; Crystals On The Glass; Been Down So Long; Jive Pajamas; Phoenix Rising; To Love; Right As Rain; Chasing Rainbows; Bonus tracks: Something In The Way She Moves; A Heartless Night; Your Cake And Eat It.
Personnel: Iain Matthews: vocals, guitar; Bart Jan Baartmans: vocals, guitar, bass, drums: Bart de Win: vocals, keyboards; Eric De Vries: vocals, guitar, mandolin.
Title: Like A Radio | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Made In Germany Records