Matt Schofield had a specific vision for his latest release Far As I Can See, the follow-up of his outstanding 2011 effort Anything But Time. He was intent on recreating and capturing in the studio the feel and sound of his live shows. All the pre-production decisions were made with this goal in mind. He brought his guitar tech in as engineer for the record to make sure the tones were just right. He assembled a band of players who've been on the road with him before and they recorded the album playing together rather than tracking separately. He also changed this up bringing in a bass player (Carl Standbridge) rather than having Jonny Henderson play the bass lines on keyboard with his left hand. He also made sure in selecting which songs and which takes made the record with his live shows as the blueprint.
That's a lot of thinking and tinkering for a record he wanted to feel spontaneous and immediate and maybe it's because of the contradictory nature of working hard to sound effortless that Far As I Can See doesn't sound drastically different than his previous albums.
"Everything" and "The Day You Left" come closest to "live in the studio" aesthetic aimed for, the former with the breakdown in the mid-section of the song, the latter with the extended guitar solo. It's a great solo, too, Schofield reminding us how rare it is to find a player capable of going long without being overblown, boring, or both.
It's interesting with the effort to create a live album on record that "The Day You Left" gets the long workout rather than the instrumental tune that follows it, "Oakville Shuffle." This number has solid foundation, built for improvisational jamming.
The album takes its title from a line in "Hindsight," a fantastic number whose great groove and snappy horn arrangement feel straight out of the Stax canon. Jonny Henderson's organ easily recalls the great Booker T. Jones and the horn accents bark and shimmer. Schofield's guitar work references Albert King (as it does on "Breaking Up Somebody's Home," a song King recorded) and his vocal attempts to capture a little of the shuck-n-jive of the Memphis soul-bluesmen. His take on his own song is excellent but I hope a producer pitches this song to one of our surviving Memphis icons so they can take it out for a test drive.
The real achievement of Far As I Can see isn't how close it comes to feeling like a live show but rather how the record plays to Schofield's strengths as a master guitarist and growth as a vocalist. He plays with precision throughout the record and demonstrates taste and restraint in choosing when to execute tight, compact solos or fire off bursts of notes. He remains among the most compelling contemporary bluesmen of his era and his balance of technique, discipline, and chops creates a deeply satisfying listen.