Saturday, September 13, 2014

In Search of Iain Matthews: Home

For our final look at Iain Matthews we head back to 1974 with a country influenced recording from his album “Some Days You Eat the Bear . . . Some Days the Bear Eats You.” Although Matthews recorded ten cuts for this album, he only penned four of the songs including our feature “Home.”

While not chosen as the single, perhaps it should have been. Elektra picked Matthews’ cover of Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work” as the initial single in 1974. While Steely Dan’s version of “Dirty Work” wasn’t released in the US as a single, it received massive amounts of album play. Although Matthews’ version is a respectable rendition, it would be immediately compared to the original and the American public didn’t buy it – figuratively or literally.

The second single for the album was Matthews’ take on the late Danny Whitten’s (formerly of Crazy Horse) “I Don’t Want to Talk About It.” Released in the UK in December of 1975, the single did not capture the attention of the public as did Rod Stewart’s 1977 release of the same song. Again, Matthews’ interpretation was stellar, but it did not chart.

Today, we bypass the singles to an album cut titled “Home.” I can’t tell you who specifically played pedal steel guitar on this cut as the credits list both Jeff “Skunk” Baxter and B.J. Cole on the instrument. The harmonica which is integral to this recording was provided by session musician Joel Tepp. I hope you’ve liked this feature on Iain Matthews and had the opportunity to hear some new music in the process.

Friday, September 12, 2014

In Search of Iain Matthews: If (Stomp)

It’s day six of our search for Iain Matthews and I continue with my favorite cut from Fairport Convention’s debut album. In addition to its presence on the album, “If (Stomp)” was released in the UK as the flipside of the band’s first single: “If I had a Ribbon Bow.” While the album was released on Polydor, the single was on Kit Lambert’s Track Records label and was released in February 1968.

With Fairport’s rise in popularity with their December 1969 release of “Liege & Lief,” Polydor re-released the album and brought “If (Stomp)” to the forefront in April 1970. “If (Stomp)” became the plug side and was backed by “Chelsea Morning.” The remastered version of the album with four bonus tracks was released by Polydor in 2003. This was the first appearance of “If I had a Ribbon Bow” on a Fairport album. I got my copy of the song, however, in the 1970s on an import Polydor album called “Rare Tracks.”

“If (Stomp)” is such an upbeat number that you can’t listen to it without smiling. Written by Iain Matthews (credited as Ian MacDonald) and Richard Thompson, the song features Matthews on lead vocals and includes Thompson and Simon Nicol on backup vocals. No doubt it is Thompson on lead guitar and probably Nicol on the slide guitar later in the song.

I love Martin Lambles’ drum break – I’m not sure if he is drumming on a rim, the top of the bass drum, or a stack of chairs as he did on “Si Tu Dois Partir.” Lamble also plays tambourine, but it isn’t as noticeable in stereo version as it is in the mono single mix.

Others on the tune include Judy Dyble on electric autoharp and Ashley Hutchings on bass. I never noticed the autoharp until listening to the remastered version of the tune. It is in the right channel – and is quite neat – I always thought it was a guitar.

Neither single, by the way, were released in the US and the album only surfaced the second time around when it was issued on Cotillion Records, a subsidiary label of Atlantic, in 1970. Getting a copy of this LP from my brother in November 1972 was my introduction to this English mainstay and it served to whet my appetite for more Fairport music.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

In Search of Iain Matthews: 7 Bridges Road

If you mention the song “Seven Bridges Road,” people’s minds immediately go to the Eagles. It is no wonder, as the Eagles’ late 1980 live version of the song charted at #21 on the Hot 100, #17 on the adult contemporary chart, and #55 on the country chart. Eighteen years later, Ricochet recorded a similar arrangement and it charted at #48 on the country chart.

Although the Eagles’ version is the best known release, they were not the first to record Steve Young’s song. In fact, Young recorded it thrice before the Eagles, with versions released in 1969, 1972, and 1978. Even Eddy Arnold, Joan Baez, and Rita Coolidge recorded it earlier.

Even at that, the arrangement of the song by the Eagles was borrowed from Iain Matthews who was the first to record “Seven Bridges Road” in 4/4 time, as the original was in 3/4. Matthews was also the first to introduce an a capella beginning. Both the Eagles and Ricochet owe a debt of gratitude to Matthews, as had it not been for his 1973 release from his “Valley Hi” album, their subsequent hits would have never occurred.

While the Eagles version utilized the vocals of all five members of the band, Iain Matthews sings all of the parts on his recording – making it even more remarkable. “Seven Bridges Road” and “Valley Hi” were produced by former Monkee Mike Nesmith who also lends his guitar work to the album. In addition, Red Rhodes’ steel guitar is prominently featured giving “Seven Bridges Road” a haunting feel.

Although released as a single, it failed to chart for Matthews, which is a shame as it is one of his best recordings. For Matthews’ release, both the single and album titled the song as “7 Bridges Road” unlike the full name of “Seven Bridges Road” used on earlier and subsequent releases of the tune. Of course, he was known as “Ian” Matthews in those days too.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

In Search of Iain Matthews: Woodstock

Iain Matthews only had two American Top 40 hits in his career. His biggest release came in 1979 with his remake of Terrance Boylan’s “Shake it” from his “Stealin’ Home” LP. It charted at #13 – a respectable position for a relatively unknown artist in the US. Unfortunately, I won’t be featuring “Shake It,” as I had featured it in 2012.

The other hit came about in 1970 and it was a remake of the Joni Mitchell composition “Woodstock.” Matthews Southern Comfort version is remarkable as it was released during the same year as Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young’s hit version that charted at #11. Matthews and company hit #23 on the Hot 100 and it was probably released as a single in the US as it achieved #1 status for three weeks in the UK during October. The song features a nice laid back pedal steel lead by Gordon Huntley.

Although “Matthews’ Southern Comfort” was the name of his first solo album, Iain Matthews later used the name Matthews Southern Comfort for his band that released two albums. Unlike the solo album, the group’s name official contained no apostrophe; however, the apostrophe mysteriously appears on pressings of the “Woodstock” single.

Both Matthews Southern Comfort albums were released on Decca in the US (UNI in the UK); “Woodstock” came from second LP, “Later that Same Year,” which was later re-released on the budget Phoenix label in the latter 1970s. This is the version of the LP that I have in my collection.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

In Search of Iain Matthews: Book Song

Day Three in our search for Iain Matthews who is our Second Week of the Month feature. In today’s episode, we feature a duet between Matthews and Sandy Denny from Fairport Convention’s second album. In the UK, the LP was called “What We Did on Our Holidays”; however, A&M, the band’s US label, rebranded it simply as “Fairport Convention,” as their first album of that same name had not yet been released in the US.

In addition to the albums schizophrenic identity, the UK version’s cover had a photo of a blackboard “assaulted by the members of the band.” The US cover, however, features a fun photo of the band sitting in a pile of leaves. A&M banked that this cover would be more attractive to American audiences and I for one always loved this photo. I can’t say the same for A&M’s cover choice for the next LP, “Unhalfbricking,” which was simply stupid by any stretch of the imagination.

Our choice is the beautiful waltz named “Book Song.” Iain’s and Sandy’s vocals never sounded better. This is one of the songs that I got to know from “The History of Fairport Convention” which included a total of four songs from “What We Did on Our Holidays.”

Penned by Iain Matthews and Richard Thompson, the song highlights the great production skills of American Joe Boyd. “Book Song” is replete with interesting instrumentation that includes a sitar, a backwards guitar, and Claire Lowther’s ‘cello. During the instrumental break, there is a wonderful interplay of Richard Thompson’s lead, a backwards guitar lead, and ‘cello. In my book this is the highlight of this tune.

For those interested, the backwards guitar was recorded on another tape deck and then the tape was flipped and then played backwards and was added to the overall mix. This technique was used by The Beatles; Crosby, Stills, and Nash; Jimi Hendrix; Yes; and countless numbers of other rock musicians.

Today, the effect can be attained electronically without the use of a tape deck; thus giving the guitarist more control over the notes being played.  If you listen to the second verse there are a couple of discordant notes from the backwards guitar which is a necessary evil when reversing a tape and the resultant notes happening when they do. It is not real obvious in this tune, but they are there.  I never noticed this until recently, and that is after listening to this song for over 40 years. So Joe Boyd and the band did a commendable job keeping these issues at a minimum.

Monday, September 8, 2014

In Search of Iain Matthews: Desert Inn

During the summer of 1973, I was fortunate to pick up a copy of Iain Matthews’ second album, “If You Saw Thro' My Eyes.”  Its characteristic indigo cover definitely caught my eye as I slugged through various discount bins at my local F.W. Woolworth’s. That spring, I had previously purchased an import of “The History of Fairport Convention” with Pete Frame’s lovely family tree of the band. It was my second Fairport LP and it gave me a taste of the band's music from their second LP to their yet unreleased “Rosie.”  I had been previously been given the American release of their self-titled debut album. 

It was Frame’s tree that provided me knowledge of the various Fairport Convention alumni’s extra curricular activities. These other projects included Matthews Southern Comfort, Plainsong, Steeleye Span, Strawbs, Fotheringay, Trader Horne, and others. With my heightened awareness of the various members and their activities, I set out to find these recordings. Matthews’ “If You Saw Thro' My Eyes” was my first find in my extra-Fairport quest.

The Side A Vertigo Label as used on this album.

This 1971 release is one of my favorites by Matthews and it features notable guest musicians including Fairport alumni Sandy Denny on vocals and Richard Thompson on guitar and accordion. There also were a couple members of Sandy Denny’s Fotheringay project: Pat Donaldson on bass and Gerry Conway on drums. Rounding out the lineup was guitarist Andy Roberts, who would later become Matthews’ partner in Plainsong, and guitarist Tim Renwick, a member of Quiver.

The Side B label with Side A info included.

“If You Saw Thro' My Eyes” is probably my favorite Matthews album. Today, I am featuring the lead track “Desert Inn.” I will have to admit that I don’t quite understand the lyrical content of this and several other songs on the album, but I really like the tune. What’s not to like? There’s innovative guitar leads by Richard Thompson, backup vocals by Sandy Denny, and Matthews’ impeccable voice. Listening to it “helps me keep alive and kickin’.”

Sunday, September 7, 2014

In Search of Iain Matthews: An Amelia Earhart Trilogy

It’s the second week of the month and I always try to come up with a theme to play across seven days of posts. I came up with today’s selection back in May and have dubbed it “In Search of Iain Matthews.” Born as Iain Matthew McDonald, he has performed as Ian McDonald, Ian MacDonald, Ian Matthews, and finally as Iain Matthews. I took the name of this week’s special in honor of his band Plainsong’s LP “In Search of Amelia Earhart.”

Matthews got his start with a West Coast/surf sounding band called Pyramid in 1966. The band released one single in 1967, “The Summer of Last Year” backed with “Summer Evening.” A third cut, “Me about You,” was eventually released in 1999. While Pyramid’s non-charting single “The Summer of Last Year” is available on YouTube, the sound quality of that recording is not the best; therefore, I won’t be providing it as an example.

We will, however, be featuring some of Matthews’ better recordings (in my opinion) from his first decade of performance. Matthews still performs today and my brother had an opportunity to open for one of his Pittsburgh shows a number of years ago. While not generally known by the hoi poloi, Matthews’ voice is unmistakable and needs to be heard more often – that’s my mission this week.

Today, we feature a trio of songs that appeared on Plainsong’s 1972 release “In Search of Amelia Earhart.” While only three songs on the album dealt with “The First Lady of the Air,” the title was inspired by Fred Goerner’s theory that Earhart was captured by the Japanese on Saipan. According to Goerner’s theory, Earhart’s first mate Frederick Noonan was beheaded and Earhart died of dysentery during her capture. It was theorized that Earhart and Noonan were actually on an air reconnaissance mission to spy on the Japanese for the US government.

It was hard picking one of the three songs that appear sequentially on the Plainsong LP, so I created a YouTube playlist that features all three Earhart related tunes. The first was Plainsong’s rendition of Red River Dave McEreny’s 1939 composition, “Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight.”

The bridging song is that well known gospel tune “I’ll Fly Away,” which was one of over 600 songs penned by Albert E. Brumley beginning in the 1920s - hence our labeling this post also in the Spiritual Sundays category. Finally, the trio of tunes ends with Matthew’s own composition of the “True Story of Amelia Earhart.” While Plainsong consisted of several members, the principal partners in the band were Ia(i)n Matthews and Andy Roberts, who still today perform as a duo under the band’s name.