Since the early days of his career, Ian Matthews has been pigeonholed as a folk or country-rock artist -- more than likely because of his voice and emphasis on songwriting (original and borrowed) -- when in reality he spent a good portion of the '70s and '80s dabbling in various styles, from new wave, synth- and jazz-inflected pop to a new age-influenced record for Windham Hill. Released in 1993, Skeleton Keys may be what most would expect from Matthews, but it's actually more of a return to an acoustic sound that hadn't really dominated his albums since the first half of the '70s. In fact, Skeleton Keys is probably the most acoustic-oriented studio recording he's made to date, featuring acoustic guitar, acoustic bass, dobro, accordion, mandolin, and fiddle, with only subtle touches of electric guitar. As a writer, Matthews has always included at least a handful of original gems with each record, while also showing a good ear for the songs of others, but Skeleton Keys is his first comprised of all his own material. There are a number of highlights here, though most seem to come from the most melancholy moments, including the moving Miles Davis tribute "God's Empty Chair," the autobiographical analogy of "Compass and Chart," the touching "Every Crushing Blow," and the dark, imagistic "Living in Reverse." Elsewhere, cuts such as "Cover Girl," "The Ties We Break," "A Cross to Bear," and the folk-rap "Back of the Bus" are not without their own certain charms, though one can't help but think that replacing some of the lesser tunes with a couple of well-chosen covers may have done a lot for the record as a whole. Still, Skeleton Keys continues a strong and steady comeback for Ian Matthews.
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AllMusic Review by Brett Hartenbach