Ian Matthews

Some Days You Eat the Bear and Some Days the Bear Eats You

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Some Days You Eat the Bear and Some Days the Bear Eats You Review

by Brett Hartenbach

Ian Matthews' fifth solo effort since leaving Matthews' Southern Comfort, Some Days You Eat the Bear and Some Days the Bear Eats You continues the country-rock of its predecessor, the Michael Nesmith-produced Valley Hi, but with more emphasis on the L.A. singer/songwriter sound and less on straightforward country. Though both records were recorded in Southern California, Nesmith brought a distinct Nashville flavor to Valley Hi, utilizing such country greats as steel guitarist Red Rhodes and fiddler Byron Berline. Here, Matthews (who handles the production duties) draws from the vast pool of L.A. session regulars, including Jackson Browne sideman David Lindley, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter from Steely Dan, and America's rhythm section. This -- along with the occasional saxophone and double-tracked lead vocal -- accentuates the pop sense evident just below the surface in Matthews' past work, giving Some Days You Eat the Bear a slightly more polished, commercial feel. For material, he once again borrows from the catalogs of favorites such as Jesse Winchester and Gene Clark (whose "Tried So Hard seems to be a leftover from the Valley Hi sessions), as well as covering now-classic tunes by the likes of Steely Dan, Danny Whitten, and Tom Waits, all of which suit his warm, emotive tenor nicely. There's also the usual peppering of fine originals, which at their best hold their own next to his choice of covers. Matthews' best song here is also one of his most enduring, the Hank Williams tribute "A Wailing Goodbye," in which he imagines himself attending the funeral of the country & western legend. A solid final album for Elektra, Some Days You Eat the Bear seems to serve as the bridge between his folk and country-rock days of the late '60s and early '70s and the more pop and rock direction that would dominate the next decade of his career.

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