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Eclectic Earwig Reviews

Jim Matheos: Away with Words - (CD, 43:10) Metal Blade 3984-14275-2
Metal Blade Records
4025 E. Chandler Blvd., Ste. 70-D7
Phoenix, AZ 85048

Jim Matheos apparently decided that he needed a break from the metal-prog
din of his day job as Fates Warning guitarist, so he went out and got
himself a "new-agey" trio of musical buddies and recorded Away With
Words, a severe departure from his work with Fates Warning that will
invoke images of Michel Flatley's "Lord of the Dance" rather than
headbanging prog-heads. The result is a mixed bag of "smooth jazz," complete
with Tony Levin inspired bass riffs (the liner notes says the instrument
used is indeed a bass, but I'd bet the house that there's a "stick" in use
somewhere), and incredibly airy arrangements.

In addition to Matheos on the guitar, the rest of the band consists of
Michael Manning on the bass, Mark Zander playing the drums (barely), and
most noticably Charlie Bisharat handling the violin duties. The violin is
featured quite prominently on Away With Words, which makes it even
more disappointing that the melodies composed for the instrument are so
mundane and repetitive. The musical structure of the violin parts are more
akin to the "ad nasuem" riffs of house music than the more improvisational
stylings of jazz. There are also some ill-conceived musical turns taken
here, such as a dixie-land "ho-down" titled "Tongue Tied" that made me
personnaly cringe with embarrasment.

Now that's not to say that all is bad with Away With Words - when
Matheos' guitar playing is brought to the forefront of the pieces the CD
fares much better. One of the stand-out tracks on the CD is a lullabye
titled "Goodnight, Goodbye," which features some excellent acoustic work.
However, the track on the CD that will definitely give listeners goosebumps
is "Piscataquog" - an absolutely wonderful track that finishes out with two
minutes of the most beautiful guitar arrangements I've heard in recent
years. Matheos' style here is very reminiscient of Anthony Phillips'
"Private Parts & Pieces" series - just a lush arrangement of 12-strings that
is guaranteed to patch a line directly into your soul and totally de-stress
your psyche.

It's a shame that Matheos decided to make the sound he successfully
engineered in "Piscataquog" the exception on the CD rather than the rule.
Too often on Away With Words, the violin and muted bass simply steal
the soul out of Matheos' compositions. Aside from a couple of stand-out
cuts, Away With Words offers very little to the potential listener -
but it will make one long for a Jim Matheos solo acoustic effort where he is
unencumbered by other musicians.

- Michael Askounes

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