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Eric Matthews - Six Kinds of Passion Looking for an Exit

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Artist: Eric Matthews

Album: Six Kinds of Passion Looking for an Exit

Label: Empyrean

Review date: Apr. 13, 2005

As we near the midpoint of the first decade of the new millennium, maybe enough time has elapsed that we can take a good, long look back at the singer-songwriter hopefuls of the 1990s, those who populated the indie-rock landscape with a bare, born-in-the-’60s heart and a guitar (or piano) and tried to reach out to us all. These were guys who took the spirit of songwriters and arrangers throughout the late ’60s and early ’70s to heart, spinning on a long axis from outsider folk to lush pop balladry. When you reinvent, you have the luxury of picking and choosing from various scenes, styles and genres, and hammering them together into something that’s your own. In other words, what might have been a failure then could mean the world to somebody now.

This crop of musicians I speak of followed a similar pattern in most cases; they had often fallen out of a band in which they played a key role, gotten the chance to indulge their influences (often to remarkable results), received a fair amount of press and lauded as the “next big thing,” then couldn’t generate airplay or album sales and faded from the public eye. From Jason Falkner, Brendan Benson and Elliott Smith, to Joel R.L. Phelps, the Jefferies brothers (Peter and Graeme), and Liam Hayes (Plush).

And Eric Matthews. Possibly one of the brightest lights of the whole bunch, Matthews was the arranger and instrumentalist alongside Richard Davies in Cardinal before striking out on his own with two gorgeously lush, intricately arranged albums for Sub Pop (1996’s It’s Heavy In Here and 1997’s The Lateness of the Hour). Then, just as quickly as it began, Matthews jarringly disappeared from the public eye – the same sort of abruptness that brought Cardinal to an allegedly acrimonious split. It was said that Matthews steadfastly refused to perform live, thus denying him an “add” on Los Angeles’ record-breaking KROQ. Others report that his public demeanor in interviews was enough to warrant his label to cautiously back off. Whatever conjectural foibles may rate, Matthews hasn’t had the luxury of another release until now.

The seven songs on Six Kinds of Passion aren't so much a return to form as they are clues to where Matthews has been, and what his worldview consists of these days. So if we’re to believe these songs, he’s made peace with Richard Davies via “Cardinal is More” (“Thanks for the call / I knew the silence had to end”); he disappeared due to harshness and indifference of public opinion (in “Underground Song,” he opines “I’m terribly sailing / In waters that hate me”); love has escaped him, but hope remains. None of these are particularly original pursuits for lyrics, but Matthews has always been best when he’s borrowing from the past, and reminiscing on his surroundings to the point of confessional, and that’s what he continues to do here.

He’s not working with the studio budget he’s had in the past, but note the craft that Matthews can squeeze out of ostensibly home recordings. Clear guitar tones, sublimely double-tracked vocals, and well-placed percussion, horns, piano, and electronics all share the spotlight, uncrowded and comfortable within one another’s space. Matthews’ voice sounds as rich as ever (think a more mature Lou Barlow, one far less inclined to spout embarrassing teenaged metaphors and prepared to bare his soul) and his arranging skills still fall squarely in the camp of both dour Colin Blunstone types and cynically hopeful Carole King territory, to name a few points of his reference. For all his time spent wandering, this return to the surface is strong enough to merit another grand album of pop thrills. Time has passed, wounds have healed, and it’s time for a proper comeback.

By Doug Mosurock

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