Away With Words

Jim Matheos

Metal Blade Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


I have always been a sucker for great guitar work, as anyone who has read this site for some time now is aware of. I'm especially partial to acoustic guitar work; it takes a true artisan to be able to wring notes out of an acoustic that one never thought were humanly possible.

Over the last few years, I've been fortunate enough to be able to listen to the works of some of these masters; names that immediately pop to mind include Doug Smith, David Pritchard, Pierre Bensusan and the late Michael Hedges. If you've never heard the work of any of these guitarists, after you're done reading this, run out and buy one of their CDs.

Now, you can add another name to that list: Jim Matheos. His latest album Away With Words shows the pure beauty of the instrument without needing to rely on flashy pyrotechnics or riffing that makes it seem like his hands have no joints. In fact, it's usually when Matheos sets up a basic rhythm pattern and allows his bandmates to build on the work that his playing shines.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

It's an interesting combination that Matheos has put together: virtuoso bassist Michael Manring (who might be the best unknown bassist - at least to rock fans - out there today), violinist Charlie Bisharat and drummer Mark Zonder. What is even more interesting is that, if I'm reading the liner notes correctly, the band didn't record their tracks together.

The use of the violin as a lead instrument in anything other than classical music is something that takes some getting used to; the opening track "A Way With Words" doesn't really show the power that such a combination can have. It's only when Manring shows his absolute mastery of the bass guitar on "Palindrome" that you know this combination has something great going for it. (And, to Bisharat's credit, he does prove his worth often on this album.)

The real magical song for me starts with "Astronomics," a track that is more than just new age; it really has a jazz/rock feel that would make a group like Weather Report proud. The vibe between these four musicians is absolutely amazing, and is a lot of fun to listen to. (Seeing that this disc was released on Metal Blade, a label not normally associated with this genre, there's a chance that some diehard headbangers might pick this up and discover Matheos and crew.)

Two tracks on Away With Words seal this album's place of honor on my shelves. The highlight for me is "Piscataquog," a song whose rhythmic backbone - almost like a lullaby - comforts the listener, and allows them to float along with the music as it unfolds. (Although it might sound like it near the end of the track, there is no harpsichord being played - at least none that's credited. I think it's just further testament to Matheos's playing.)

The second track is "The Language Of Silence," whose rhythm pattern will keep you on your toes and keep you interested throughout the track. It's truly an amazing piece of work, and is one that should not be missed.

Away With Words doesn't always work this well; I thought some concepts on "Mumbo Jumbo" could have been better developed, but that's just me. Still, any mistakes that Matheos and crew make are minor, and hardly distract from the big picture here - namely, that this is an amazing disc that is screaming for your attention. Listen to its soft scream, and allow it to take you on an incredible ride.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Metal Blade Records, and is used for informational purposes only.