Talking Elephant 2020
Folk rock wanderer finds a fresh wind for his neverending melodic adventures.
More often than not, a sigh is in order when artists set to recut their classics in a studio, as opposed to playing old pieces live, because it’s a sad situation as such pursuits of long-gone youth smell of creative crisis – yet Iain Matthews is a happy exclusion of the rule. This veteran’s penchant for circling back to chestnuts of yore would usually imply winding his way through the vast catalogue and also discovering new ways to deliver familiar and half-forgotten songs. And that’s what the English musician does here – not limiting the dusting off of fans’ favorites to a few numbers, as was the case on "Like A Radio" last time around, but properly delving into what’s been strewn across his records for five decades now, and challenging himself by working with a virtually unknown, if fantastic, Norwegian ensemble.
That’s why the celebrated signposts “Woodstock” and “Reno, Nevada” – the latter a staple of early FAIRPORT CONVENTION performances, where Iain duetted with Judy Dyble, the former a hit for MATTHEWS SOUTHERN COMFORT – don’t sound fatigued. On the contrary, there’s fresh vigor and different tunefulness in these haunting tracks, and a couple of cuts from his sophomore solo effort "If You Saw Thro’ My Eyes" get extended to embrace the breezy eternity. Still, the punchy chorus of the only especially composed cut on offer, “I Threw My Hat In,” feels defiant – and vulnerable, too, in its trip down memory lane. Yet opener “Same Old Man” seems to acquire the previously unheard gravity now that the singer is 74, even though his voice is ageless, so the faux folk ballad’s cold vibe, clanging groove and sparse arrangement form an eerily alien atmosphere.
As Freddy Holm’s many strings – attached to violin, cell and viola as well as mandolin, dobro and banjo – spice up a chamber ambience with a country pining, both Matthews’ ’70s numbers and latter-day romantic musings “Following Every Finger” and “Something Mighty” take on intimate tone to inhabit the listener’s heart once again. This is why there’s nothing fake about “Fake Tan”: it’s as sincere as Iain’s songs always were.