IAIN MATTHEWS & THE SALMON SMOKERS – Fake Tan (Talking Elephant TECD465)

Fake TanAs his contribution to making us all feel better in these difficult times Iain Matthews has turned his attention to some old favourite songs plus a brand new one. Fake Tan (I wonder what that could refer to) was recorded in Norway with a quartet of musicians: Eivind Kløverød, Finn Tore Tokle, Omar Østli and Freddy Holm, collectively The Salmon Smokers.

Iain opens with ‘Same Old Man’ which is essentially a square dance tune but under Holm’s direction it begins with loop of machine noise for underlying percussion and a growling guitar to power it. Iain leans forward on the vocals here and there but essentially he sings it as he always has and that contrast sets up the album. Up next is ‘The Ballad Of Gruene Hall’, a story of happiness and tragedy. It’s a song I’ve heard many times but here it sounds different and I feel as though I was really hearing it. I suppose that’s the idea.

The new song is ‘I Threw My Hat In’, the story of the adventures and misadventures of a young musician with Iain no doubt drawing on his experiences with The Pyramids, Fairport Convention and Plainsong. ‘Something Mighty’ comes from Excerpts From Swine Lake and inevitably we come to ‘Woodstock’. How many times has Iain sung that song? It is to his credit that after nearly fifty years he, and The Salmon Smokers, can bring something new to it. He sang ‘Reno Nevada’ with Fairport and recorded it on If You Saw Thro’ My Eyes while ‘Southern Wind’ has the call-and-response pattern of a traditional song.

Iain hasn’t recorded ‘It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes a Train To Cry’ before and, while his version doesn’t have the urgency of Dylan’s original, it allows to band to settle into a groove and stretch out. Once again, they have found something new in the song. Real Matthews devotees will know Jules Shear’s ‘Following Every Finger’ and those with venerable record collections will enjoy this new arrangement of ‘If You Saw Thro’ My Eyes’.  Finally, although it’s listed as a bonus track, we have ‘Keep On Sailing’ which is an excellent sentiment to close with. We’re reminded that “There’s an omen in the sky today”, as if we needed reminding, but despite that we should “Keep on sailing”.

Fake Tan is a brilliant album and I say that as a long-time Iain Matthews fan. Naturally, I’ve given it more plays than is usual for a review and I suspect that it won’t stray too far from my CD player any time soon. The Salmon Smokers are an unconventional band and clearly something special sparked between them so dare we wish for Fake Tan Part II?

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.iainmatthews.nl

‘Woodstock’ – live with The Salmon Smokers: