Album Review: The Art of Obscurity by Iain Matthews
Fairly Good, Based on 4 Critics
Resident Advisor - 80 Based on rating 4/5
“Something has shifted in my life.” From these first words of Ghost Changes, the opening track on his 25th – and apparently final – solo album, Iain Matthews is in a reflective vein indicative of someone in their 60s. Since joining Fairport Convention in 1967, he’s forged a career that’s included group, duo, trio and solo work, all marked by exquisite, consistently tasteful, top-quality songwriting and singing. This new album, recorded in Austin, Texas with producer Bradley Kopp, is no exception, as its gently understated acoustic tracks provide a perfect backing for Matthews’ lyrics.
Iain Matthews relocated to Austin Texas back in the late '80s, so it shouldn't come as a great surprise that The Art of Obscurity is steeped in the unconventional Americana rhythms of the city. Recorded in Austin by producer -- who has cut records with several of the city's stalwarts, including Joe Ely and Jimmie Dale Gilmore -- The Art of Obscurity does indeed flirt with hints of country and blues, but it's generally an intimate folk-rock affair that showcases Matthews' idiosyncratic voice. Prior to its release, Matthews suggested this would be his last solo album (he's not looking to retire from music but would rather focus on collaborations if he chooses to record), and this would function as a fitting coda to his long career.
Twenty five albums into a career that started auspiciously as a founding member of Fairport Convention back in 1968, Iain Matthews (sometimes known as Ian) quizzically says in his liner notes that “The Art of Obscurity will be my last solo album. It will however not be my final recording.” Make of that what you will, this is his first American release in 15 years and it has been a decade since his previous album, so he’s had some time to polish and refine this material. It has paid off in a beautifully crafted, dozen tune set that combines Matthews’ lush voice with jazz/blues/folk inflected melodies and well-crafted, often personal lyrics.
Dear Reader and Listener, let me take you back in time. Specifically to 1970 when a band led by Iain Matthews, the ex-singer with Fairport Convention, recorded the Joni Mitchell song “Woodstock” and had a worldwide smash, including a No. 1 in the UK. YouTube it, listen once, and then listen again.