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Music Review - 'Matamoros' by James Kahn (dm)

James Kahn  - Matamoros  (Click to watch the video)

26 January 2020



James Kahn is a modern Renaissance man. He has written bestselling novels, contributed to the screenplays of award-winning television programs, and written and performed on several Americana concept records. His latest in the latter category is Matamoros, a sprawling depiction of a little known episode in American history during the Civil War.

In the liner notes, Kahn writes, “Matamoros became a hive of Northern and Southern spies, runaway slaves, Confederate deserters, corrupt cotton brokers, Mexican resistance fighters, Texas Rangers, French Foreign Legionnaires, British marines, smugglers, bar girls, diplomats, bandits and rogues of every stripe. Here are some of their stories.”

No matter how brilliant a concept, or fascinating the stories, if a record does not succeed in the delivery of enjoyable and effectual music, it will fail to have any impact on the listener. Fortunately, Kahn excels in the diverse composition of story-songs that capture not only the emotional and historical intricacies of their lyrical subject matter but also the natural sonic accompaniment for their travails. There are folk-gospel, traditional country, blues, and Latino-inflected sounds and styles. The musical variety and acuity transport the listener to the Matamoras banks, where they will meet a colorful cast of loners, gamblers, fighters, and lovers – all desperately searching for home and safety in the most turbulent moment of American history. 

Kahn’s words demonstrate a gift for striking a rare balance between history and intimacy; capturing both the national turmoil of the time, but synthesizing the story down to the triumphs and traumas of ordinary people navigating the dangers and opportunities of war.


At 14 songs – and with several of them running over five minutes – Kahn is asking for an investment of time and attention. His music is worthy of it. The lyrics are intelligence, the performances are skillful, and Kahn works within the limits of his voice to communicate with the heart and mind of the listener. Matamoros subverts the American addiction to instant gratification, and pop culture’s resistance to complexity and nuance, and while doing so, gives his listeners songs that they can sing.


 David Masciotra



David Masciotra ( is the author of four books, including Barack Obama: Invisible Man (Eyewear Publishing, 2017) and Mellencamp: American Troubadour (University Press of Kentucky, 2015).

To read all of David's reviews, click here 





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