Dust Bin Ian Matthews British Folk Also-Ran
posted by December 11 at 14:42 PMon
There are so many folk singers in the ‘70s who just missed making a bigger splash. Pretty good songwriting, nice voices and good production work, but the public just seemed to be overloaded with them. So they made their choices. There was Neil Young, CSN, and the ever popular Dylan.
But for every one of them there was an Eric Anderson (forever to be thought of as the “poor man’s Dylan”), a Richard Farina (never too popular while alive), and to a lesser extent guys like Ian Matthews.
Ian Matthews started his career in none other than Fairport Convention. This was at the beginning, when Fairport was more inclined to cover sunny California pop, then olde English folk tunes. He appears on the first album as vocalist, duetting with Judy Dyble and on What We Did On Our Holidays sharing vocals with Sandy Denny.
As the band’s direction changed it seemed eminent that the man that brought the sunny West Coast style would be let go. It seemed to fit everyone, for Matthews went on to create a solid solo career, recording for many different labels, all the way through today. The singer/songwriter even had a stint here in the rainy climes of Seattle for four years in the ‘70s.
He managed to stay pretty close with his former bandmates, however, as they tend to show up on his albums pretty regularly. He started his solo career fronting the band Ian Matthews’ Southern Comfort, with some highly respectable albums, but the focus today is on his output from 1971-1974. During those years he put out two albums for British psyche/prog label Vertigo, and three albums for Elektra, at the time THE American label for West Coast rock, pop, and soul.
These five albums form the definitive collection of Matthews’s solo work.
If You Saw Thro’ My Eyes from 1971 is beautiful and stark. Full of songs that straddle the edge between rock and quiet folk hymns, the album contains performances by most of Fairport backing him up, as well as Sandy Denny, who had left Fairport by this time. She lends her piano and vocals to the gorgeous title track.
Tigers Will Survive, released later that same year, would solidify his songwriting credentials with great tracks that lean further on American folk roots and Cali-pop. The great cover of “Da Doo Ron Ron” even became a top 20 hit here in America. The rest of the tracks on the album while not hits, sound recognizable due to their homage to American pop music. It comes off sounding a bit like a Greatest Hits without charting many songs.
Next came the somewhat disposable Gospel Oak, an obligatory album for his old Decca label, which has some good tracks, but is mostly forgettable.
Valley Hi is a product of Matthews’s move to sunny California, and his immersion in country music. The album includes contributions by many western music side men, but the stand out performance is the production by former Monkee Michael Nesmith who highlights Matthews songs without drowning them in the countrified atmosphere. “7 Bridges Road,” his cover of the Steve Young classic, is better than the Eagles, and he also does a stellar version of Jackson Browne’s “These Days.”
Last in this period was his Some Days You Eat the Bear…And Some Days the Bear Eats You. This is the essence of Matthews’s L.A. singer/songwriter sound in a single album. With members of Jackson Browne’s band and Steely Dan backing him up as he works over some classic covers and originals, that once again for their newness, seem like you’ve heard them all before.
After this period, Matthews, like all artists, would lose his individuality to the big labels, who wanted every artist selling records like Fleetwood Macs’ Rumours (with its sales in the millions). If you didn’t perform up to their sales standards, you were cut. Because of this Matthews would record for nine different labels in the following decades.
Also just post this period he would make a four year stop in Seattle, recording for the RSO label. During this period he would have his last Billboard hit, “Shake Up.”
So there you are, the best of Ian Matthews in a nutshell. But don’t let it stop here, search him out and be pleasantly surprised by this folk-pop also ran.
As usual, some nice tracks can be sampled at my blog, here.