The name certainly transports us back to 1970 when Matthews Southern Comfort hit the number one spot in the charts with their cover of Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock, perhaps the first record featuring pedal steel that Blabber’n’Smoke bought. A rare moment in the spotlight for singer/songwriter Iain Matthews, Woodstock is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his illustrious career. A founder member of Fairport Convention, he released three albums under the Southern Comfort band name before going solo and releasing a magnificent series of solo albums commencing with If You Saw Thro’ My Eyes including a collaboration with Mike Nesmith on Valley Hi. Alongside this he was a member of Plainsong who released one of the best “forgotten” albums of the seventies, In Search Of Amelia Earhart, (do search it out) but as time progressed changing fashions and record label shenanigans led to him take more of a back seat in the industry. Moving to The Netherlands in the early noughties Matthews has been involved in various reincarnations of his past bands over the past decade and this album finds him working with guitar wizard B.J. Baartmans along with Bart de Win on keyboards and guitarist Eric Devries.
It’s a mellow affair, the band affecting a late night vibe for the most part aside from the clumsy opener, The Thought Police, a diatribe against the sort of Big Brother situation we are in these days but lyrically kind of stuck in an early seventies agit rock rant, Edgar Broughton could probably punk it up well but here it kind of sticks out. The title song follows and it’s more successful although it still cleaves to an earlier age, its jazz cool and slight LA funk reminding one of Ben Sidran while de Win’s piano playing adds a touch of class. While there are some asides to folk and jangled pop scattered throughout the disc Like A Radio sets the template for much of the album. It’s well played and thoughtful music with Matthews in fine voice but several of the songs fail to quicken the pulse.
There’s some fine stuff here mind you. Bits & Pieces is an excellent band performance, Been Down So Long (a nod to Richard Farina) tackles oppression from a historical viewpoint and manages to raise some sparks while Phoenix Rising benefits from Baartman’s sinewy guitar lines while Matthews’ vocals recapture some of his seventies recordings. He actually revisits the original Matthews Southern Comfort albums with a new version of Darcy Farrow (recorded on Second Spring) which is delivered with a sparse arrangement allowing his voice to shine while Carole King’s To Love is given a sparkling new arrangement with Baartman throwing out some slinky guitar solos. Our review copy has three bonus songs with James Taylor’s Something In The Way She Moves (again recorded on Second Spring) just sublime, Matthews’ voice as clear and unsullied as all those years ago while the band play it beautifully.
It’s nice to hear Mr. Matthews again and while the album doesn’t break new ground it’s a grand late night listen and a fine opportunity for folk to catch up with him.