Iain Matthews,
Excerpts from Swine Lake
(Tangible Music, 1999)

Iain Matthews is a skillful singer-songwriter and Excerpts from Swine Lake is a strong example of his talents. This album's songs mostly deal with troubled relationships, but do so in a wide variety of styles and moods with excellent pacing on the album as a whole.

"Where The Big Dogs Run" is probably the catchiest song on the album, which make its lyrics something of a shock when one listens more closely. The bouncy music contrasts with rather bleak and cynical words describing the fleeting and unpredictable nature of fame or luck.

Several other songs also use this contrast between fairly upbeat music and lyrics about conflict and difficulty. In "Horse Left In The Rain" the title, a line from the chorus, gives us an image of accepting fate and not dramatizing it. "Heroes," "Trail of The Survivor" and "Touching the Fleece" have lyrics that are far more embittered than the music would initially lead you to believe. While I think this technique could be overused, in Matthews' hands it is very effective.

Both "...Something Mighty" and "Changes" describe romantic relationships in which the people are at odds, particularly in their timing although also in their goals. No resolution is implied, but the situation is described in a clever and darkly humorous way, and with a very danceable beat.

In "Sight Unseen (The Birthday Song)" the singer is surprised and shocked to see the changes his life has made in him, and how different he from his self-image. He longs for self-acceptance, or maybe for the future he had dreamed rather than the one that's come.

My two favorite songs on this album are both bittersweet love songs. "Cave In" is a sad but lovely song about conflict in a relationship. "Break A Window, Break A Heart," sung a capella, regrets past mistakes and possible future ones.

"Dance of Fate" and "Even If It Kills Me" are also about failing relationships; the first seems to be wasting away, while in the latter the singer has things he needs to say to his love -- "even if it kills me" -- but he thinks she won't listen.

The liner notes are well laid out and includes all the lyrics; I wish all singer-songwriters did this! The grey maps used a background on the pages do make them difficult to read in places, but the typeface is large and clear enough that it's possible. Credit for the musicians is given in the back of the notes and not on a song-by-song basis, which makes sense if, as it appears, the same people played on the whole album. I do wish Matthews had given a brief explanation for the album's title! The Swine Lake area is circled on one of the album's maps, and is apparently in Texas, but beyond that it is not explained.

This is a very good album, and very well put together. The songs are solid, many of them very good, and ordered well. For me the only real flaw is the unremitting gloom of the lyrics. While this was balanced to a point by some melodic and upbeat music, in my opinion the album would be stronger if there had been only one positive or hopeful song! Still, it's an excellent album and I'm happy to have it in my library.

[ by Amanda Fisher ]

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