(5 / 5)
Some 51 years after leaving folk supergroup Fairport Convention, and half a century after securing the number one spot in the UK singles’ chart for three weeks with a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock”, evergreen singer-songwriter Iain Matthews is sounding as good as ever.
Sounding very, very, very good, in fact, with the 2020 incarnation of his legendary band Matthews Southern Comfort, and their superb new album “The New Mine”.
The fourth album since Iain resurrected the band in 2010, after it lay dormant following his departure in 1971.
The original Matthews Southern Comfort cut three albums – all three dropped in the same year of 1970 – that may well have been the very first so-called “Americana”, decades before some marketing guru came up with that genre/label.
Iain and his band back then blending British folk/folk-rock with West Coast of America sounds – and to many, the UK’s version of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
He also cut several super, but commercially unsuccessful solo albums for Vertigo and Elektra after he quit MSC, (who carried on as Southern Comfort), before he joined the band Plainsong. Iain went on to record more solo records for various labels and collaborations.
Today his voice sounds remarkable considering the mileage on that vocal clock at 73-years-old. His song writing prowess is in fine form too. At times on this album, Iain’s voice reminded me of Graham Nash.
The line-up is a strong one, and there’s real chemistry between Iain and the fab three that make up this fab four. From his home in the Netherlands, where he has resided since the move from the US 20 years ago, Iain sought out the best of “local” musical talent.
Bart Jan Baartmans on acoustic, electric and resonator guitars, mandolin, sitar, bouzouki, bass and banjo, Bart de Win on acoustic and electric pianos, accordion and backing vocals and Eric De Vries on acoustic guitar and lead/backing vocals.
There are 12 classy tracks here, including a sublime cover of Joni Mitchell’s 1985 album cut “Ethiopia”, which opens this set.
Beautifully framed with ethereal swirling guitars and lush vocal harmonies. I half expected this to be a previously unreleased deep cut from the 1970/71 MSC. But no, it is a brand new recording and worth the admission price alone.
The songs penned by Ian with various combinations from the band’s personnel. By no means a folk album alone. It spreads its wings across folk, alt. folk, folk rock, country, Americana and all sorts. Roots might be a good fit to sum it up.
Ian’s vocals really are five star, and he plays acoustic guitar, percussion and sings backing vocals. Sjoerd Van Bommel is credited as “honorary member” on drums, percussion and “good advice”.
First single “Feed It”, is lovely; a twangy, country-tinged track that put me in mind of the 60s Merseyside sound. The finger picking guitar and the groove of “Working In The New Mine” make that one a winner – a sure fire bet as a live favourite.
Ian penned “Starvation Box” on his own, a ditty about a busker with a guitar on his knee, who turns out to be a Vietnam vet’ who is AWOL. Man’s killing off of the planet is the topic of “The Hole”, written by Ian and Bart de Win. The closer, “In My Next Life” is a gentle ballad with a laid-back vocal and some gorgeous guitar.
Now, if anyone slings the accusation at Iain that he is using the brand name Matthews Southern Comfort to cash in on the nostalgia boom/circuit, and really this is one original member (Iain) and three Dutch blokes, I’d say that would be unfair.
These tracks retain the essence of the core sound of the original Matthews Southern Comfort. Iain’s voice and Iain’s songs can be called whatever he likes. He WAS the core sound of the original band.
The harmonies are blissful. The space left as per the production values, so the songs can breath and are not over-egged with “production”, to be commended.
Although this collection triggers memories of the late 60s and the 1970s, I can testify that this is not a museum piece. I think this is just as relevant to today’s singer-songwriter scene as it would have been to that scene of yesteryear, had it come out back in the day.
But cream always rises to the top and quality always sells….Iain Matthews is probably one of the most under-rated and often neglected of British singer songwriters that this country has produced in the last six decades.
This album and these songs more than prove it. But Iain has no need to rest on his laurels and trade on “Woodstock” and his original output, when he sounds as good as he does here – and when he can pen material as credible as this collection.
If you are ‘self-isolating’ and want to escape the mind numbing effects of yet another hour in front of Netflix, Amazon Prime, NOW TV, Sky, etc etc and the repeats on TV, close your eyes and let this very impressive album wash over you like a warm ocean. The best 55 minutes you’ll invest in a while.
- If it goes ahead, subject to the current Coronavirus crisis, Matthews Southern Comfort will appear at Fairport’s annual Cropredy Convention in the UK, in August.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’