A nostalgic blast from Iain Matthews who sings 15 songs of peace, love and understanding which were performed at Woodstock.
It’s fitting that Iain Matthews’ latest version of Matthews Southern Comfort revisits the legendary Woodstock Festival of 1969 as they tackle “15 songs of peace, love and understanding” on this album of songs which were performed on Yasgur’s farm back in the day. Fitting because Matthews’ name is indelibly linked to the festival due to his worldwide hit cover of Joni Mitchell’s ode to the festival back in 1970. Those of us with a long memory will recall Matthews on Top Of The Pops singing about stardust and for many this will have been a bit of a gateway into the world of nascent Americana music. This reviewer certainly recalls finding out that a certain American band that went under the moniker of CSN&Y also had a version of ‘Woodstock’ and that certainly led to a nigh-on 50-year-long dive into a rabbit hole.
Anyhow, Matthews, armed with a new version of his Southern Comfort band, was disarmed when the world shut down for a while. Aiming to get back on track, he alighted on the idea of revisiting his Woodstock by degrees fame, a tactic he is happy to mention in the liner notes here. As such the album is a collection of 15 songs which were performed at the Woodstock festival and, suffice to say, it’s quite an intriguing listen with its success partly dependent on how familiar one is with the originals.
If you recall the festival, it was a very mixed bag, the tail end of 60’s folkies sharing the stage with psychedelic bands, soul giants and the upcoming standard bearers of stadium rock. To their credit, Matthews Southern Comfort step at times outside their (ahem) comfort zone to tackle all of the above. The current lineup (Matthews along with B. J. Baartmans, Eric Devries and Bart De Win) acquit themselves well throughout while the recording captures them quite superbly in crystal clear sound.
A glance at the track list raises a quizzical eye as to how this low-key band will approach songs by Hendrix, Santana, Blood Sweat & Tears and Sly & The Family Stone. ‘Purple Haze’, the third song on the album, does pose problems as the band deliver it in a CSN&Y rock style which ultimately doesn’t do it any favours. The cover of Santana’s ‘Evil Ways’ is more successful with Baartman’s guitar slithering away as the band lay down a mild Latin beat but a similar approach to Blood Sweat & Tears’ ‘Spinning Wheel’ just fails to ignite. Surprisingly, Sly’s ‘Everyday People’ is one of the highlights of the album with its slide guitar and harmonica duet and its loose-limbed delivery pumping new life into this joyful song.
Less surprisingly, Matthews delivers excellent renditions of CSN&Y’s ‘4+20′, Tim Hardin’s ‘If I Were A Carpenter’ and John Sebastian’s ‘Darlin’ Be Home Soon’ while the version of The Grateful Dead’s ‘High Time’ is a pinnacle. Hendrix’s blasphemous rendition of the ‘Stars & Banners’ is referenced at the beginning of the hoot that is Country Joe’s ‘Feel Like I’m Fixing to Die Rag’ (unfortunately Matthews fails to deliver the infamous Fish cheer but does include a nod to a later cover here from The Who). Canned Heat’s ‘Going Up The Country’ is given a tremendous zydeco makeover and The Youngbloods’ ‘Get Together’ remains quite the anthem for any who still harbour thoughts that love can conquer all.
Ultimately this album is a must for committed Matthews fans and it’s a fair bet to say that, if you are of the Woodstock generation, then it’s a grand nostalgic trip. This is well amplified on the final song, Matthews’ take on the amphetamined Who anthem ‘My Generation’, here delivered almost as an elegy.