Matthews Southern Comfort – Like A Radio
Mig Music – 23 February 2018
Forty-eight years on from their debut album, Iain Matthews has reconstructed his first project after leaving Fairport Convention, putting together a new line-up, or, to be more accurate, the same Dutch line-up from 2010 but with acoustic guitarist Eric De Vries replacing Elly Kelner on vocals alongside multi-instrumentalist Bart Jan Baartmans and keyboard player Bart de Win. All three of them have a hand in co-writing material, De Vries’ contribution being to the late night jazzy vibe musing on modern life, The Age of Isolation. Likewise, de Win shares credits on the equally mellow Chasing Rainbows, a love song to California which, featuring electric sitar, references both Daydream Believer and Good Vibrations. Baartman has three co-writes, the first being album opener The Thought Police, a moody observation of today’s Big Brother society built around acoustic guitar and eerie background electronics. While Phoenix Rising is a melodically gentler affair, an accordion-coloured number with Baartmans delivering a resonator guitar solo, about a singer who found fame but is now, in the eyes of the world, a faded memory “with nothing of substance to say.” The third, which comes as one of three bonus tracks, is A Heartless Night, a West Coast-suffused laid-back ballad about a predatory femme fatale “working the room like a bitch in heat.”
There are three other shared credits, frequent collaborator Egbert Derix his co-writer for Been Down So Long, a mid-paced, bluesy five and a half minute number about oppression and exploitation that starts and ends by referencing Cortez’s invasion of the Incas. It expands to take in a wider picture of how disenfranchisement and intolerance will eventually spill over into unfocused retaliation. A post-relationship slow country waltz, Right As Rain teams him with Austin-based songwriter Michael Fracasso while the title track is another lengthy blues-tinged number about a toxic relationship, which, built around piano and clicking percussion, and sounding somewhat different from the material usually associated with Clive Gregson.
Matthews takes the solo credit on a number of tracks: the uptempo, playful, brushed drum, jazzy and woozy Jive Pajamas, a swipe at over the top Los Angeles lifestyles. The slow blues bonus track state of the world closer Your Cake and Eat It and Bits and Pieces, electric guitar and mandolin bringing a rockier sound to a number about displacement rewritten and reworked from its original form fifteen years ago as Plainsong number called A Fool For You.
The remaining three tracks also come with MSC history, a revisitation of songs from the band’s second two albums released, as was the debut, in 1970. From the sophomore release, Second Spring, comes Darcy Farrow, here recast as a sedate piano ballad to reflect the downbeat nature of the lyrics, a far cry from the jaunty, pedal-steel led original. The remaining bonus track, an electric guitar restyling of James Taylor’s Something in The Way She Moves, is taken at a slightly slower pace but with less of the original’s airy touch. While I may be imagining it, there’s a musical hint of George Harrison’s Something, the opening line of which borrowed Taylor’s title.
Finally, from the aptly titled Later That Same Year comes its opening number, Goffin and King’s To Love, reworked from the original surfing rock ‘n’ roll arrangement into a slightly slower, swampy guitar blues and country groove that more readily conjures the Everly Brothers. The band and the sound have, like the bourbon, mellowed warmly with age, but the kick is still there.