Genepool 2010 / Esoteric 2012
A folk scene stalwart gets back to the garden but hits some cobwebs on the way.
Looks like the loneliness can get to every singer-songwriter, even the one as experimental in his approach as Iain Matthews, which is why in the last decades he veered off from the venerable solo career to revive his past ensembles – first PLAINSONG and then MATTHEWS’ SOUTHERN COMFORT, a band the artist delivered two albums with shortly after leaving FAIRPORTS. Now, 40 years on and despite the apostrophe in the name, there’s even more of a collective feel, what with Terri Binion’s voice and songs taking a half of the album, yet Iain’s own current attitude is so laid back that all too often the music induces slumber rather than a dream, the best example being a new version of “Woodstock”, where paradise lost gets turned into a foray into sun-kissed orchard. By the same token, the honeyed flow of countrified “Money” lacks the sharpness of its own words, and it’s only anxious “The Way Things Are” and “O’Donnel Street” with their jazzy grit that have cobblestones in their urban stride to bounce off from.
But there’s a clear warning of things to come in the rural sparseness of opener “Letting The Mad Dogs Lie”, the piano and steel guitar wrapping around Matthews’ voice, smooth and soothing, even velvety in the “Kingfish” croon, whereas his female counterpart goes for homespun roughness in “Dear Richard”, asking “Are these the songs you write?” for all the puzzled listeners, and rocks gently in “These Days”. Yet all too often the songs gel into blissful sameness, rippled in places with Bart-Jan Baartman’s mandolin and vocal harmonies, most perfect in “Blood Red Roses”, another Richard Farina’s cover from Iain’s old repertoire. Revisiting here “The Road To Ronderlin” from the group’s 1970’s debut, the veteran dusts off more classics on the companion album, “Kind Of Live”, and adds some new cuts, from “New”, which, on-stage, possess more vigor. That’s where the stardust rubs off.