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Vince Matthews and Jim Casey

The Kingston Springs Suite – 2015 (Delmore Recording Society)

Reviewed by Robert Wooldridge

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CDs by Vince Matthews and Jim Casey

Considering the star power that backed "The Kingston Springs Suite," it is a bit surprising that it took over 40 years to be released. Produced by Shel Silverstein, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Jack Clement the project was a concept album by singer/songwriters Vince Matthews and Jim Casey that depicted small town life in Kingston Springs, Tenn. (population 510 at the time in 1972).

Matthews was the driving force behind what was an expression of both reverence and concern for his adopted hometown. There are bits of narration that recall some of Johnny Cash's dramatic recitations, while "Mr. Sam" and "Mr. Soul" include spoken dialogue from the subjects of the companion tracks (a railroad worker and a blacksmith respectively) and create a documentary feel.

One of the stronger tunes is the ballad "Melva's Wine," the lone solo composition by Matthews (later covered by Cash) in which he sings affectionately about his wife Melva ("She sang as sweet as the robin sings/Above the grapes in Kingston Springs") and the sibling he misses, but not enough to leave his cozy environment ("I got a brother up Chicago way/He wants me to visit him someday/And I may some time/But not as long as the robins sing and Melva sleeps in Kingston Springs").

With "Five Hundred Houses," Matthews laments the changes coming to his town ("Where Mr. Newsom used to plant and plow/There's a big new supermarket coming up now" and "Twenty two miles of paved city streets/Cover up the ground where the green grass used to be"). The closing "God Save Kingston Springs" observes the decline in many cities but remains hopeful ("And today you hear the cry/There's pollution in the sky/But there's still a breath of air in Kingston Springs").

Though obstructive forces including the self-destructive behavior of Matthews (who died in 2003) caused "The Kingston Springs Suite" to be shelved for over four decades, this belated release serves as an interesting time capsule for both the music scene and the changing landscape Matthews and Casey documented in their compositions.