Cat Stevens

Matthew & Son

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Cat Stevens' Matthew & Son was among the handful of releases that introduced Decca Records' "offbeat"-oriented (but ultimately largely psychedelic/progressive) Deram label in England. Actually, Stevens' "I Love My Dog" launched the label in fine style by climbing to number 27 on the U.K. charts, and its follow-up, "Matthew & Son," hit number two, resulting in the release of the original album of the same name. The latter was not only a fine account of Stevens' early folk-influenced pop/rock sound, but was also a beautiful, candid audio "snapshot" of one side of Swinging London's musical ambience in late 1966 and early 1967. It melds tinkling harpsichords ("Matthew & Son") and moderately ambitious orchestrations (mostly horns and strings) on some songs ("I Love My Dog") with folky acoustic guitar on others ("Portabello Road"), a lot of it carrying highly expressive, weirdly personal lyrics. Though it was like pulling teeth to get some of those early records out from Decca, this album sounds today like the record that should have accompanied the American version of the Beatles' Rubber Soul onto millions of turntables. It's very distant from the sound that Stevens was ultimately known for, and in many ways, it's more dated than what he did for Island/A&M, but it's much more self-consciously accessible, arranged in different styles, ranging from vaudeville-style band accompaniment ("I See a Road") to trippy Donovan-esque ballads ("Baby Get Your Head Screwed On," "When I Speak to the Flowers," "Hummingbird"). Some of it, such as the sax-driven "Come on and Dance," is a little awkward as efforts at a soul sound, but all of it is fun, even the slightly too Engelbert Humperdinck-esque "Lady."

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