FOREWORD: Before going solo, California-styled musical designer Eric Matthews teamed up with Australian singer-songwriter Richard Davies to make wistful Chamber pop symphonies under the guise of Cardinal. Though their eponymous orchestral pop debut won serious plaudits, the co-leaders were too headstrong to continue as partners. Davies left to go solo on ‘96s wonderfully smooth There’s Never Been A Crowd Like This, 98s ambitiously surreal Telegraph, and ‘00s straight-up pop gesture, Barbarians.
Meanwhile, Matthews landed on his feet, too, putting out ‘95s lushly compelling It’s Heavy In Here and ‘97s equally sumptuous The Lateness Of The Hour. But I’m unfamiliar with ‘05 Six Kinds Of Passion Looking For An Exit and ‘06s Foundation Sounds. I interviewed Matthews via phone to promote The Lateness Of The Hour. This article originally appeared in Cover magazine.
Eric Matthews’ newest mini-pop symphony, The Lateness Of The hour, features acoustic pop vignettes and dreamy baroque tunes woven into a translucent semi-thematic opus.
Having gained exposure in the short-lived Cardinal with fellow singer-songwriter, Richard Davies, a lyrical Australian minstrel with similar tastes, the reflective twosome eventually moved on to separate solo careers. But it was Cardinal’s eponymous ’94 album, with its brilliant melodies and gorgeous arrangements, that gave them fervid cult status.
Matthews, an Oregonian tunesmith and former San Francisco Conservatory of Music trumpeter, released his pastoral debut, It’s Heavy In Here, during ’95. With a plush, smoky baritone that glides gently above neo-Classical settings, insouciant soft rockers, and billowy mood pieces, he handsomely exposes heartfelt yearning and ardent desire.
“What I’m doing is earnest music in the true tradition and spirit of the masters: Billy May, Gordon Jenkins, and Burt Bacharach. They were fabulous orch-pop arrangers that gave me something to shoot for,” Matthews confides. “I’m also inspired by Classical symphonic composers Rachmaninoff, Tchaikowsky, and Barber, along with film composers John Williams (Star Wars) and Rosa (Casablanca0. I’d like to think there are still some artists making real revolutionary pop records. But they’re not widely acknowledged presently. It’s like trying to fight against the tide.”
Its pleasant wistfulness recounts past relationships and imagery-laden incidents with acute hindsight. Helped along by Jellyfish composer Jason Faulker (electric guitar, piano, bass) and increasingly popular solo artist Spookey Ruben (bass), Matthews sprinkles flower power psychedelia, jangly acoustic vibrancy, and glass-like percussion into his expressive compositions.
“It’s a shame Faulkner’s excellent Author Unknown solo album didn’t sell many records. From my perspective, the better pop music of past generations went mainstream. But Nirvana got so successful, it changed what radio played entirely,” surmises Matthews.
The first single from Lateness, “My Morning Parade,” went to the chopping block at radio in July. Its friendly melody and upbeat horns give it the perfect sunny day ambiance. And the reliable Beach Boys knockoff, “No Gnashing Teeth,” gains strength from its Phil Spector-ish Wall of Sound studio atmosphere, polite piano undercurrent, and triumphant trumpet finale.
“People unfortunately believe Celine Dion and John Tesh make high quality, graduated symphonic pop. But it’s cheesy Night of 1,000 Strings gloss. I’d much rather listen to great singers, like Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, and Dean Martin. They had class,” Matthews concludes.