Charles Matthews Jr. has released his first record, after a long career as a support player for many well know R&B performers. “Interpretations”, is exactly what the artist says it is. It is a collection of classic songs from artists as varied as Roberta Flack, Grover Washington, Nina Simone, Aretha, Chaka Khan, Donny Hathaway, etc… All interpretation here is provided by Charles Matthews Jr.
CM Jr. learned his skills the old-fashioned way. He played behind such great hit maker’s as the Chi-Lites, Jerry Butler, The Impressions, Tyronne Davis and other rhythm and blues legends. Sometimes the sound can stray into easy listening territory and can seem a bit bland. I do not mean Bobby Blue Bland either. I mean Murph and the Magic Tones kind of bland. That may have to do with the choice of material though. There is no way any artist can interpret his way out of the cocktail lounge when playing “Feel Like Making Love To You” by Roberta Flack. Unless you happen to be the rock band Bad Company.
I enjoyed the production on this record quite a bit and the guitar touches, such as the subtle 1970s Cry Baby Wah-Wah foot pedal sounds, add layers of depth to these recordings and gives CM Jr. a solid foundation to spread his keyboard wares over. Also, the keyboard generated string arrangements add class to the songs they are applied to, as well. It is hard to evaluate this kind of record. How do say which beautiful and soulful melody is better than the other one? I think for me the all time champ of the heavyweight title fight will have to be the song Natural Woman. The melody that was forged by Gerry Goffin, Carol King and Jerry Wexler (can’t forget Jerry Wexler, can we?) is the king of the hill and coupled with a sympathetic, natural sound recording, it stands out over the shoulders of some of the other songs on the album.
My choices for the runner ups in this title fight are as follows. The version here of the Donny Hathaway classic, “I’ll Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know”, brings a new level of jazz intelligence to the song’s arrangement. Taking the song out of Hathaway’s dirge like approach the song gets a new meaning and emotion lift from the jazzier fairy dust sprinkled on it. This seems like it was a favorite of the band to play. There is a special feeling to this one that is coming from the musicians themselves. The drummer especially rides the emotional crests with authority, accenting with his cymbals in a very effective way. Then you get the impassioned keyboards, riding that crest providing the bounce of the tune. All in all a highly affecting performance and no surprise it is the longest recording in the collection. These guys must have been deep down in the groove with this one. Then we have my contender for the bronze medal.
“Betcha By Golly Wow”, by the Stylistics, is one of the greatest songs of the early seventies. It hearkened back to an age when writers were all not about detailing degrading and seedy elements in a popular song. It is the quintessential full ear candy kind of R&B, that was eventually loved and admired as the Philly soul sound. Matthews gives it the Chicago treatment, but that is OK. He still taps the emotional core and center of the song and gives it the kind of respect, that makes the song come alive and stand on its own two feet. Great recordings of great songs done by a solid player. What more could you ask?