Late Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Etta James once said of David K. Mathews, her keyboardist for 20 years, that “he can play anything” – a compliment borne out by his work over the years with everyone from Wayne Shorter, John McLaughlin, Sheila E. and Boz Scaggs to Santana, whom he’s toured with now for ten years. The multi-talented musician, arranger and producer’s stylistic diversity extends to his ongoing album series The Fantasy Vocal Sessions – so named not only because of the wish-list gathering of hand-picked Bay Area singers (all longtime pals and associates) but for the project’s earliest sessions at the legendary now-closed Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, CA.
After launching the intended five album series in 2018 with his critically acclaimed, jazz-leaning Vol. 1, Standards, Mathews gets his soulful blues inflected and sizzling horn drenched pop/R&B groove on with Vol. 2. Once again, while Mathews shimmers and simmers on a stunning array of the vintage keyboards (Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer Electric Piano, Moog, Hammond Organ, etc.), his true Quincy Jones-esque mission here is to assemble and helm supercharged sessions covering a wide range of classic material that showcase some of the region’s most worthy musical and vocal talents.
Even if you’ve heard other covers of Stevie Wonder’s “Superwoman,” James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” Anthony & The Imperials’ “Goin Out of My Head,” the Ray Charles popularized “One Mint Julep” and Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman,” you’ve never heard them breathe and burn as sensually and soulfully as these re-imaginings. There are also slightly lesser known, but no less impactful, gems by Van McCoy, Blood, Sweat & Tears and Donny Hathaway. These culminate in a slow-cooking, scat filled twist on “Yesterday” that turns the classic Beatles lament into an epic improvisational soul-jazz anthem.
Y’all certainly know Steve Miller, who struts amiably through a breezy big band funk spin through “One Mint Julep.” You may be less familiar with, but truly need to be aware of, the other regional greats (and Mathews favorites) who will torch your heart and soul in the most wonderful, haunting yet exhilarating ways as you listen – Alex Ligertwood (Santana), Tony Lindsay (Santana), Lady Bianca, Amikaeyla, Funky Fred Ross, Glenn Walters and Kenny Washington. Get set soon for the upcoming Vol. 3, which Mathews says will focus on the blues.