Ian Matthews

Stealin' Home

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In the '70s, the sweetly mournful country-rock accents of Some Days You Eat the Bear and Some Days the Bear Eats You and the light R&B/jazz textures of Go for Broke and Hit and Run weren't making much of an impression within Ian Matthews' shrinking fan base, and poor sales led to him being dropped by more than one major label. So Matthews took a more pragmatic approach with his next album, 1978's Stealin' Home; working with a sympathetic producer, Sandy Robertson (who also ran Rockburgh Records), Matthews dove headfirst into a polished pop sound that made the onetime British folkie sound like a member of the L.A. Mellow Mafia. Even though it was recorded in Oxfordshire, Stealin' Home re-created the meticulously crafted sound of West Coast pop with impressive accuracy, and Matthews and Robertson shrewdly front-loaded the LP with tunes from other songwriters whose work was better suited to radio than Matthews' own tunes. (It's worth remembering that despite Matthews' strength as a writer, his biggest previous hit was a cover of Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock.") But if Stealin' Home is a rare example of Ian Matthews playing the game of star-making machinery, never let it be said he didn't play the game well. Matthews' vocals are superb throughout Stealin' Home, his band is tasteful and concise in its arrangements, and with "Shake It" he found a song that could have been a hit (it was penned by Terence Boylan) and gave it all the touches it needed to hit the upper reaches of the American pop charts. Stealin' Home is ear candy, but candy manufactured to high quality standards, and Matthews' own tunes, especially "Slip Away" and "Sail My Soul," made clear his message hadn't changed even if the backdrops were sunnier. (Matthews also included an a cappella version of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Carefully Taught" that's especially powerful for its spare presentation.) Matthews was clearly aiming for a radio-ready hit with Stealin' Home, but the results are a long way from a commercial sellout.

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