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9 Aug 2016

Milt Matthews Inc. “For The People” 1971 US Psych Funk Soul








Milt Matthews Inc. “For The People” 1971 rare US Psych Funk Soul

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This one occasionally shows up on psych lists commanding big dollars. It’s also listed in one of Hans Pokora’s Record Collector Dreams books. Unfortunately, as is often the case, the ‘psych’ label’s certainly questionable. Namesake Matthews and his interracial band (lead guitarist Randalll Burney, drummer Tommy Byrd, Norman Harrison, and bassist/brother Carl Matthews) actually would be better described as a soul band with rock tendencies. That’s not meant as a criticism since the album’s actually quite good.

Produced by Beau Ray Fleming, 1971’s “For the People” was one of those era pieces that sought to span musical genres and appeal to soul brothers and hippies everywhere. A mixture of Matthews originals and popular blues and rock covers (Beatles, Blind Faith, B,B, King), that also goes a long way to explaining why the album occasionally bordered on being schizophrenic. Matthews’ roots were clearly in blues and soul (he turned in a nice Otis Redding impersonation on 'Oh Lord (You Got To Help Me)’), though fuzz guitar propelled tracks like their wild cover of 'The Beatles 'Hard Day’s Night’ and 'Can’t See Myself Doing You Wrong’ made it equally obvious Matthews had bought lock, stock, and barrel into Hendrix’s vision of rock and roll. As mentioned, namesake Matthews had an attractive soul voice and his backing band was quite good, if occasionally squeezed by Bert Decauteaux’s string arrangements ('The Thrill Is Gone’). Lead guitarist Burney certainly loved his fuzz pedal (check out his performance on 'That’s What I Feel (Like a Burning Fire)’ which sure sounded like a Robert Cray tune to my ears) while Tommy Byrd and Carl Matthews aptly anchored the whole show. So what baseline comparisons come to mind? Perhaps early George Clinton and Parliament, or Norman Whitfield-era Temptations had he given guitarist Dennis Coffey a mandate to play whenever he felt like it (;Runaway People’)… Yeah, this is simply one where I’m left to struggle for a better description, but it’s also an LP that I truly enjoy for it’s willingness to stretch demographic boundaries. As you’d expect, the album was commercially stillborn with soul fans put off by the rock moves, while rock fans were put off by the soul influences. Shame …

The group Milt Matthews Inc was signed to Ember in 1971 for one album For The People (NR 5056), which had been released in the USA on the Catalyst label. The album was an era piece that sought to span musical genres and appeal to both soul and rock fans, with powerful vocals in the Otis Redding mould and a lead guitarist who had obviously studied Jimi Hendrix. It was produced in New York by Beau Ray Fleming with the strings overdubs arranged by Bert “Super Charts” DeCoteaux. Milt sang lead vocals, played rhythm guitar and wrote the original songs.

The remainder of this interracial band comprised his brother Carl Matthews on bass, Norman Harrison on electric piano, piano and organ, Randall Burney on lead guitar and drummer Tommy Byrd. The opening track is an extended workout on B.B. King’s 1970 hit ‘The Thrill Has Gone’ with a menacing string arrangement provided by DeCoteaux, who had also embellished B.B.’s version. The bluesy ‘Can’t See Myself Doing You Wrong’ is the first of Milt’s compositions and features strong backing vocals, possibly by the Sweet Inspirations. Artists in the seventies frequently included a Beatles cover on their albums, Milt’s choice was to apply some funk to ‘Hard Day’s Night’ supported by outstanding fuzz guitar from Randall. ‘Oh Lord (You Gotta Help Me)’, another Matthews song, is a fine pleading soul ballad with tasteful strings and girl group sweetening. ‘Runaway People’ had been an R&B charter for Dyke & The Blazers the year before and Milt adds some screams that Dyke would have been proud of. Probably Milt’s best love song, ‘That’s The Way I Feel (Like A Burning Fire)’ also has the benefit of Burney’s scorching fuzz interjections. A plea for peace and love, ‘Disaster Area’ was much in the psychedelic soul style of the Dennis Edwards-led Temptations at the time.

The closing selection is a sympathetic cover of ‘Presence Of The Lord’, Eric Clapton’s song from his tenure in the short-lived supergroup Blind Faith. Ember opted for striking new black and white artwork and a gatefold sleeve when they released the album and Fantastic Voyage has lovingly reproduced that presentation for CD reissue. The child-like cartoon cover of the American version will be displayed in the booklet, along with new sleeve notes…….

Fantastic Voyage’s excavation of the Ember label’s venerable vaults has turned up a solid lump of gold with this reissue of a soul-rock curio which slipped under the radar when first released in 1971 (after being licenced from America’s Catalyst label). Milt Matthews Inc were an early 70s interracial soul-rock band who recorded this album in New York under the production auspices of Beau Ray Fleming (then enjoying success with Mandrill), with string arrangements by Bert “Super Charts” DeCoteaux.

The album is firmly of that post-psychedelic period when racial divides were being trampled in music, but stands above many similar efforts through the strength of Mathews’ Otis-meets-Winwood vocals, the stellar band and vibrant self-penned songs such as the impassioned That’s The Way I Feel (Like A Burning Fire) and Disaster Area, which alone would’ve gained them admission into The Temptations’ psychedelic shack, with Randall Burney’s omnipresent fuzz guitar interjections. Apart from an obligatory stab at A Hard Day’s Night, the covers are also excellent, particularly BB King’s The Thrill Is Gone and Clapton’s Presence Of The Lord, which seems made for this group. Matthews’ own compositions, however, make this an essential purchase for devotees of the genre…Record Collector..

The Thrill Is Gone (Milt Matthews Inc)
Can’t See Myself Doing You Wrong (Milt Matthews Inc)
Hard Day’s Night (Milt Matthews Inc)
Oh Lord (You Gotta Help Me) (Milt Matthews Inc)
Runaway People (Milt Matthews Inc)
That’s The Way I Feel (Like A Burning Fire) (Milt Matthews Inc)
Disaster Area (Milt Matthews Inc)
Presence Of The Lord (Milt Matthews Inc)

johnkatsmc5, welcome music..

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