Many music fans have heard the Eagles singing a song titled “Seven Bridges Road.” Say what you want about the Eagles, but that is a lovely tune that really showcases the band’s gorgeous harmonies. Few listeners, however, are aware that a talented musician by the name of Steve Young was the one who wrote and first recorded that song. And fewer people still have heard perhaps the definite version of “Seven Bridges Road,” the one sung by the prolific yet underrated Ian Matthews. By coincidence, I had all three versions of that song on albums that I listened to on my MP3 device while travelling around Myanmar last month. Synchronicity, or perhaps continuity, would have ensured that I crossed a total of seven bridges during my trip, but alas, even while cycling down rural roads in Shan State, that didn’t happen. But even the lack of bridges couldn’t take away my enjoyment of the tunes. This is my kind of road music.
I first heard “Seven Bridges Road” in 1978 on Steve Young’s excellent album, No Place To Fall. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was actually the third version that Young had recorded of that song, the first occurring in 1969. But the “hit” version of the song came a few years later, in 1980, when the Eagles recorded an electrifying live acapella version of “Seven Bridges Road” for their mega-selling Eagles Live album. Some critics accused the Eagles of stealing — or at least “borrowing” — the vocal arrangement on “Seven Bridges Road” from the version that Ian Matthews recorded in 1973 on his Valley Hi album, a session that was produced by Michael Nesmith (yes, the guy from the Monkees!). That collection of songs is still considered one of the finest albums that Matthews ever recorded.
Valley Hi is now available on CD, coupled with another fine album that Matthews recorded in the 1970s, Some Days You Eat the Bear. Matthews has enjoyed a multi-decade run as a solo artist, but he was also a member of the influential folk-rock band Fairport Convention, and later formed his own group, Matthews Southern Comfort, as well as Plainsong. He fuses elements of folk, rock, pop, and country to create very melodic, tuneful songs. Matthews has written his share of original material, but he is best known for covering songs by other artists. He just seems to have a knack for picking and recording very tasteful songs. On the Valley Hi/Some Days You Eat the Bear albums he covered tunes by the likes of Richard Thompson, Gene Clark, Jesse Winchester, Tom Waits, Steely Dan, Jackson Browne, and Randy Newman. Good taste and good versions! Another one of his better albums, Walking a Changing Line, was composed entirely of songs by Jules Shear. Note: Matthews’ first name is sometime spelled as Iain on his albums.
Meanwhile, Steve Young is also still recording albums under the musical radar. One of his latest efforts was 2005’s acclaimed Switchblades of Love. In addition to that, No Place To Fall was recently packaged on CD along with another of his excellent studio albums, Renegade Picker. Two-for-One goodness. Young’s albums should appeal to fans of alt-country or the outlaw style of country music pioneered in the 1970s by artists such as Jerry Jeff Walker, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson.