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The War Against Intelligence

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January 2007

Railroad Earth

ABC, Glasgow

3 stars

Even by the eclectic standards of this year’s Celtic Connections, Railroad Earth seem so far out of kilter that by the end of the show, their presence almost makes sense.

It does, however, take some acclimatisation. Members of their entourage wander around waving streamers and sporting glow in the dark necklaces. The full complement of Scotland’s Grateful Dead tribute band, Workingman’s Deed, are assembled at the bar. It may not be 1969, but it certainly feels like it.

The music is clearly in massive debt to Garcia et al – with all the merits and drawbacks that entails.

On the plus side, there are some amazing five part harmonies on ‘Black Bear’ and ‘Railroad Earth’ that recall CSNY and a host of less accomplished country-rockers, and moments of intermittent brilliance both musically and melodically.

However, that the first six songs take the best part of fifty minutes to complete, says everything about the tendency to take one good idea and submerge it in excess musical baggage.

Even so, the encore, ‘Little Rabbit’ is typical of the good-natured, uplifting side of their work that makes for a more enjoyable evening than may have been expected. Indeed, the vibes at this happening were fairly pleasant.

Scott Matthews

ABC, Glasgow

The most unprepossessing entrance is sadly indicative of the frustrating underachievement that is to be played out over the following ninety minutes: Matthews wanders on, mutters something into the microphone and spends some time tuning before launching into his opening song.

He and his fellow musicians remain primarily seated, and along with the doodling, tuning and poorly enunciated introductions, it makes for a decidedly tedious performance.

This is particularly disappointing as his debut album, ‘Passing Stranger,’ is anything but – full of invention, tasteful playing and at least a handful of really beautiful tunes.

On his own and picking at the acoustic, it is easy to be transported back to an early seventies’ edition of ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’- John Martyn, Van Morrison and Nick Drake are all obvious, if not entirely revealing, reference points.

The singles, ‘Elusive’ and ‘Dream Song’ come as a merciful melodic release, but even they are stripped of the sparseness that makes them work in recorded form.

Like another of his obvious influences, Elliott Smith, Matthews appears to have a functional and dismissive approach to performance that greatly undersells his songwriting and voice, making for a night that is merely satisfactory when it ought to be special.

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