Matthews Southern Comfort – Like a Radio

Album Review | MIG | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 4/5

If you were to hear a conversation between Iain Matthews and Martin Simpson you would struggle to identify which one was speaking, so similar are their voices and accents.  This probably has something to do with the fact that they are both from Scunthorpe, born seven years apart in the North Lincolnshire town and having no doubt shared some of the same stomping ground.  Another key point is that they have both spent a good deal of time in America, made loads of albums and both prefer six strings to a punch in the face.  Here we concentrate on the elder Scunthorpian, Scunthorponian, Scunthorper or whatever the collective noun is, as he releases his latest album with his second most famous outfit.  We know Iain has historically befuddled us with his name – Ian/Iain, Matthews/McDonald – that he was an original member of Fairport Convention, his name (minus the ‘i’) being the second name beautifully calligraphed by Pete Frame on the cover of the ’72 compilation set History Of, and that he also scored a number one hit with Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” the year after the iconic festival in upstate New York with the first incarnation of Matthews Southern Comfort.  Cut to the new line up of the band and we find Iain joined by his Dutch pals Bart Jan Baartmans, Bart de Win and Eric De Vries, who release a generous offering of no less than fifteen songs, mostly originals with the odd Carole King, James Taylor and Ian & Sylvia song thrown in. Actually, the Gillette/Campbell song Darcy Farrow was recorded widely yonks ago by such artists as Ian & Sylvia, John Denver and Linda Ronstadt, not to mention MSC on their Second Spring album almost 50 years ago.  If “Darcy Farrow” (or “D’Arcy Farrow”) still identifies Iain Matthews as a fine folk storyteller, his humour is also captured in “Jive Pajamas”, which also indicates that the latest incarnation of MSC are remarkably adept at having fun.  Another song revisited here by the new band is Carole King’s “To Love”, originally recorded by the band on their debut LP Later That Same Year back in 1970, which here in its slightly slowed down groove still sounds as good as ever.  For those who prefer a good old moan at the state of the world, “The Age of Isolation” and “Bits and Pieces” seem to do the trick.