Matthews’ Southern Comfort (self-titled)
Having always been partial to Ian Matthews era Fairport Convention, I remember being more than elated upon the discovery of his prolific solo career. From 1969 to 1972 he managed to release at least seven LPs as a solo artist and member of Matthews’ Southern Comfort and Plainsong. In many ways his debut is only partly a solo outing. Help from his fellow Fairporters Simon Nicol and Richard Thompson create an overall feel that is not far removed from the first two FC albums. But while a few tracks such as “Commercial Proposition” and “A Castle Far” sound like top-quality leftovers from his former band, a distinctive Matthews sound was certainly emerging. This is especially evident in the country leanings (hinted at in the first two FC records) that are much more pronounced and tastefully accentuated by Gordon Huntley’s steel guitar playing.
Surprisingly the album does not suffer much from Matthews’ minimal writing contributions as co-producer Steve Barbly provides excellent material in “Fly Pigeon Fly,” “Sweet Bread” and the agonizingly plaintive “I’ve Lost You.” But Ian does deliver some exceptional writing in the steel-guitar-driven “Please Be my Friend” and the irresistible folk epic (co-written by Barbly) “Once Upon a Lifetime.”
What makes this album so timeless and enjoyable is the way it explores country music without deliberately trying to be country—a highly commendable feat that many American bands were not able to achieve. Free from any phony southern twang, Ian’s fragile, emotionally-charged vocals enrich every song with a genuineness that is perfectly complemented by the warm, rural landscape that’s successfully captured by the band. Not only is this one of the first British country-rock records, but it is also an unrecognized benchmark for the entire then-burgeoning genre. BGO has made this available on CD as a twofer which includes MSC’s slightly less impressive sophomore effort Second Spring.
“Once Upon A Lifetime”