KRISSY MATTHEWS – Scenes From a Moving Window

krissyStarting his career at the age of twelve, Krissy Matthews set out to leave a mark on the world of blues music from a very young age.  Like Joe Bonamassa, he possesses a great talent and feel for the genre and his instrument, but unlike Bonamassa, he is far more selective with regard to the speed of which he records and releases albums.  Despite only being twenty two at the time of this album’s release, ‘Scenes From a Moving Window’ marks the end of a four year studio silence.  It also marks a step up in the bluesman’s fortunes, having secured the legendary Cream lyricist Pete Brown (Piblokto/Moving Ornaments) as co-writer on eleven of the album’s tracks.

The opening number ‘If I Had a Time Machine’ is a rose-tinted look at the decade in which Pete Brown first found fame. A tongue-in-cheek lyric may hark back to a time long before Matthews was born, but it is delivered with love as he muses on all the great musicians he’d see at the Marquee given the opportunity.  Matthews eases us in to this what-if scenario rather playfully – gently, even – by noodling on a slide guitar motif and talking in the manner of a seasoned blues man, a nice touch, but it’s his bluegrass inflected, circular riff that informs most of the tune that really impresses.  The fast finger-picked approach, joined by a solid rhythm and a wash of Hammond organ creates a feelgood listen all round.  For those looking for a little more rock, the pounding drum and crashy guitar on the chorus – a nice contrast to the more complex verse – is more than happy to oblige.   Taking the energy from the opener, ‘I’ve Been Searching’ captures Matthews at his most musically outspoken, cranking out a slightly distorted blues-rock crunch, once again joined in union with some great organ work from Paul Jobson.  His youthful voice mightn’t always have the grit such a tune deserves, but his lead guitar work has the presence of the best, throwing out occasionally dirty, wah-wahed shapes that really give the number a sense of power.

‘Day By Day’ brings things down to a more low-key level, showcasing the talents of Krissy’s backing band, particularly focusing on the keys.  The soaring piano melodies create the perfect foil for acoustic strums, over which the lead vocal takes a strong hold.  It’s here for the first time you may find yourself thinking things may just work better had Matthews possessed a slightly deeper tone, but the care taken in the arrangement more than makes up for any misgivings.  The piano continues to roll, which once underpinned by solid bass and an understated drum part begins to find its feet, and as the tune progresses, listeners may also hear traces of Free and Bad Company within, particularly once Matthews launches into a couple of brief yet perfectly executed lead breaks.  Perhaps the best tribute to this number’s strengths is the fact that it clocks in at seven and a half minutes and yet never appears padded out or drags in any way.

There’s a touch more soul at the heart of ‘Out of Control’; the rhythm section rattle out a solid and uncomplicated groove, brought to life by a bouncy keyboard line.  Matthews largely takes the lead vocally rather than instrumentally here, tapping into a melodic line that like ‘Day By Day’ highlights the youthfulness in his tenor – tuneful, yes, but really not bluesy per se.  The arrival of another fast lead guitar break brings more oomph, though compared to some of Matthews’s output, there’s a bigger focus on speed than drawn out emotion.  In many ways, this tune could be seen as one of ‘Moving Window’s weaker offerings, but there’s an enthusiasm with the rattling groove that makes it hold up fine enough.    If that tune lacked the blues with a capital B, then the oddly named ‘Bubbles and The Seven Phones’ makes up for that, with darker, softer tones throughout.  A smooth vocal is balanced by an equally smooth bassline at first, before exploding into a fuzzy groove that allows all involved enough space to do their thing admirably.  While Matthews’s guitar playing – understated on many parts of this tune – should be the star, he’s outshone by bassist Aaron Spiers, a man who lays down a fat riff, but amazes with some classy fretless fills.  As with a few of the other numbers here, Matthews doesn’t hold back forever and for the tune’s climax, he launches into a whole world of blues-rock fretboard bashing that leaves a lasting impression for sure.

The musical odd man out, ‘Roadsick Blues’ is closer to bluegrass than blues, but is clearly designed as a more fun outing.  Beginning with gang vocals, Krissy and co lament drug use before launching into a shaggy dog tale of life on the road; a tale where the protagonist will only give up the road and its many vices when he dies.  While the gang vocals are perhaps a touch heavy-handed, it’s not without merit:  obviously its high speed approach is a real mood-lifter, but you’ll hear some great harmonica lines and a fairly aggressive banjo thrown in for good measure.  A complete turnaround, ‘Heading South’ is a thoughtful, heartfelt affair, melding the blues with a very soulful bent befitting the great Robert Cray.  The slow-burning arrangement once again pitches the measured bass against a lovely keyboard part – in this instance a retro electric piano sound for the most part – while Matthews’s own voice is joined in harmony by a smooth female backing, lending a classic sound.  Cranking things once more, ‘Language By Injection’ brings a little of each of Krissy’s best traits to the fore; a simple tale, heady blues groove, a huge melodic leaning and a couple of killer solos – the grubby guitar lines occasionally showing a great love for late 60s psych-blues jams and a huge organ solo worthy of Tony Ashton.

Closing number ‘Bad Boy’ aims to leave the prospective listener pumped up via a high energy workout, its verses indulging in an upbeat rhythm ‘n’ blues shuffle, with the electric guitar jostling for attention against a stabbing organ line.  By the time the chorus presents itself in full, there’s more gritty blues at play, sounding like a faster combination of Matthews’s previous traits, but it’s really with the arrival of the closing guitar solo things escalate to the next level.  Backed with a band on fire in the r ‘n’ b stakes, the guitarist launches into several bars of soloing, the first of which have a beautiful clean tone reminiscent of Freddie King. Eventually succumbing to the rock tendencies lurking beneath, his dirtier tone then dominates, but never undermines anything that’s gone before.  A great number all round, and a great way to finish an already enjoyable long player.

Simply put, this is a strong set of songs.  At the time of its creation, parts of Krissy’s vocal delivery have yet to find their true bluesy calling, but then, he has years to perfect that.  His guitar playing, however, is stellar – as is most of the work set out by his band of hardy musicians.   ‘Scenes From a Moving Window’ is a release that has much to offer many blues fans, particularly those who like things a little rockier in places, as per Joanne Shaw Taylor, Samantha Fish or classic Walter Trout.

January/February 2015