Ian Matthews is a man whose ambition slightly outweighed his talent and, thus, seemed doomed for restlessness. He played in Fairport Convention for just over an album before splitting under creative differences, and founded a couple other bands in the late ’60s and early ’70s that suffered a similar fate. The grass is always greener, they say.
If You Saw Thro’ My Eyes was his 1971 solo debut, recorded after Fairport but with the aid of the gorgeous Sandy Denny and renowned guitarist Richard Thompson. He actually broke up his own Matthews Southern Comfort, who hit number one on the British charts in late 1970, just to make it. The album itself is a solid exploration of contemporary folk-rock with several great tracks. “Never Ending” is a wonderful piece in the Elliott Smith vein with a little piano, acoustic guitar, and Sandy’s harmonium slowly slugging out a story of love that didn’t work out right. It alone is worth the price of admission. I dig “Little Known” as well, which paints a picture of boyish yearning over a steady picking acoustic, teasing drums, and an overlay of electric guitar that sounds remarkably like an organ at times.
Nevertheless, I’m not sure exactly why he needed total creative freedom to make this thing. Compared to the first half-dozen Fairport Convention albums, there is nothing extremely radical going on here. I guess it’s just the way it had to be. All things considered, If You Saw Thro’ My Eyes is strong enough to make you glad it happened exactly the way it did. They didn’t record any bonus tracks, but this remastered Water edition adds a nice intro from Iain (as he spells it now in the proper Celtic) and the complete set of lyrics to make this the most definitive CD version on the market.