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Music Review - `Matamoros` by James Kahn (lz)

James Kahn -- Matamoros  (click on image to watch video)

 18 January 2020

 

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Writer/musician/producer James Kahn is a busy man. His latest venture, a Civil War novel named “Matamoros,” has spawned a CD of the same name, one that provides expressive aural accompaniment to a fictional story about a disparate array of characters living on the narrow divide between Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros, Mexico, with the span of the Rio Grande in-between.

To call Kahn a renaissance man is hardly an exaggeration. Indeed, he’s had plenty of experience as far as creating stories of a spellbinding nature, having been a writer and producer for such high profile series as “Melrose Place” and “Star Trek: Voyager.” Nevertheless, “Matamoros” the novel isn’t nearly as fanciful. Instead, it reflects the attitudes and intents of a hard-bitten group of would-be spies and deserters thrown together in a cycle of desperation and desire. It’s hard to determine the good guys from the bad, but it rarely matters. The music paints a powerful but poignant portrait of these disparate renegades, outlaws, and outcasts, each intent on their own survival.

Happily, the music isn’t anywhere as bleak as the scenario suggests. Much of it takes a folk-like turn, specifically an Irish influence that’s surprisingly jaunty and joyful despite such dire circumstances. The title tune and “Scully’s Redemption” set the standard and establish the narrative, and even if one wasn’t inclined to connect with the storyline — although it would be a shame not to follow it, especially in the context of the music. Even the most traumatic of tunes, “The Printer’s Devil,” is so lovely, it adds to the compelling nature of the tale overall. Each entry gives voice to a specific character and their varied voices ring through each and every one. The desperation and despair, even as borne out in more sublime selections such as “So Long, The River” and “Rio Allie,” resonate in a very real way.

The sumptuous paintings included with the CD add a bonus element as well, and given the complete packaging — story, music and art — it confirms the fact that concept and creativity far outweigh the amorphous nature of digital downloads. More than that, Matamoros is an album for the ages, both heartbreaking and affecting in equal measure.

 Lee Zimmerman

 

Lee Zimmerman

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