Ian Matthews

Valley Hi/Some Days You Eat the Bear and Some Days the Bear Eats You

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Ian Matthews recorded a pair of solid albums for Elektra during the early '70s: Valley Hi, produced by Michael Nesmith, and Some Days You Eat the Bear and Some Days the Bear Eats You, which was self-produced. While it may seem less obvious in 2004, at the time country-rock hadn't been completely co-opted by groups like the Eagles. When Nesmith and Matthews combined an eclectic singer/songwriter set list with country-flavored arrangements on Valley Hi in 1973, it sounded fresh and exciting. The element that sticks out most today is the high quality of familiar songs chosen for the album, including Steve Young's "Seven Bridges Road," Jackson Browne's "These Days," and Richard Thompson's "Shady Lies." The only element that dates the music here is the pop sheen that's been added to Matthews' fine tenor, creating a mismatch between the album's vocal and instrumental approaches. Perhaps this is the reason why Some Days You Eat the Bear balances out better overall. On lovely cuts like Danny Whitten's "I Don't Want to Talk About It," the steel guitar and fiddle have been traded for a more straightforward production that works better with Matthews' vocals. For a real comparison between the albums, all a listener needs to do is check out the two versions of "Keep on Sailing," the first with piano and dobro, the latter with pedal steel and saxophone. Even if the latter album gets the slight nod, both work together well as a package and provide a satisfying snapshot of a fine singer as he developed into a songwriter in 1973-1974.

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