Rodney Matthews Studios
Master of fantastic imagery returns to his classic designs to dress sights into sounds.
Even though Rodney Matthews’ name has been synonymous with music for decades now, the British illustrator’s own sonic exercises remained unseen – or rather, unheard – until recently, when the veteran reverted to his erstwhile pastime of playing drums and composing with sound… and vision, too. That’s the idea behind this album, devised in alliance with American guitarist Jeff Scheetz: to give the veteran’s artworks a new layer of meaning and bring them to life in a different manner. It took the project a couple of decades to come to fruition, the record’s background both tragic and inspired, but the results feel worth the wait on many a level. Matthews’ music may seem like pure prog, yet it’s magnificently unpretentious. Humor and grotesque being as vital parts of Rodney’s paintings as the sense of immersion and natural beauty, all these qualities inform “Trinity” whose bombast is tempered but melodies are arresting.
As if to move any doubts about Rodney’s performing abilities out of the way right away, the album begins with instrumental number “The Heavy Metal Hero” – a juggernaut cut, chugging down Jeff’s jagged passages and arpeggios and clothed in cosmic keyboards by Oliver Wakeman, the last of the album’s prime movers, to showcase Matthews’ belligerent assault without ever losing sight of a tune – before letting John Payne and Sarah Prothero enter the stage and give the voice to the epic magic of “Mirador”: arguably, its creator’s most memorable image, aurally steeped in folksy detail and panoramic depth. Payne’s bass propels the piano-splashed waltz “The Granite Curtain” towards a tempo-shifting futuristic fantasy which is stricken with sax and smelling of nocturnal fatigue in a bar at the edge of the Universe where a brawl can break out any minute, although the real menace is concealed in the ecology-minded “Stop The Slaughter” where the contrast between infernal riff and new-age serenity drives this whale of a track into the sunset.
Not surprisingly, adventurousness reigns supreme here, “The Hop” offering a radiant dance on a sawdust floor and “The Leavetaking” taking a defiant, cymbals-caressed stroll over moonlit vista, wrapped in woodwind and supported by Tony Clarkin‘s mighty four-string rumble. His MAGNUM partner Bob Catley joins the party to provide handclaps on the titular piece – the warbler will add vocals to “I Saw Three Ships” on the vinyl album’s bonus side, where Ms Prothero will sing “Trinity” – that share the space with Rick Wakeman‘s harpsichord and church organ which smear spirituality over this majestic tapestry, as guitars rage and drums accentuate the otherworldly vibe.
No less impressive is a hefty, if funky, arrangement of Mussorgsky’s “Night On The Bare Mountain” that lends its orchestral landscape to wah-wah groans and ivory-laden grandeur, leading to the playful “November Wedding” which Oliver wrote for Rodney and Sarah’s nuptials and fleshed out later for the entire ensemble to elevate beyond the celestial. Once there, the enchanting scene of “Rivendell” emerges from acoustic mist and embraces electric miracle until spoken words draw the curtain on the pastorale and render these fairy tales fairly inhabitable – just as Matthews wanted. He and his co-conspirators have built a stupendous display of the wonders one’s wild imagination can invoke, with a booklet delving further into each of the record’s stories and unfolding paintings for the listener to admire. A brilliant design – nigh on perfect.