From his undisclosed location amid the pine-scented backdrop of Oregon’s Mt. Hood National Forest, former Cardinal brainiac Eric Matthews has been kickin’ it freestyle for the last 15 years, with nary a gig and rarely a visit beyond the bubble to show for it, but with five solo albums to his credit since then and a sixth (Too Much World) expected in mid-2009. The sole Cardinal album resulting from the pairing of Matthews and Aussie-born singer/songwriter Richard Davies came fully formed into the world way back in 1994, and its pre-“baroque ‘n’ roll” borrowed from obscure legends such as the Left Banke while neatly prefiguring the onslaught of similarly minded ‘90s indie artists (Tindersticks, Divine Comedy, Clientele and, eventually, Elliott Smith) who sought to blend guitar-based rock with lushly arranged orchestration. Cardinal’s brief reign burned brightly, but its dissolution was swift and brutal (Matthews has described it as “a great soap opera that people will enjoy, but that I don’t find that enjoyable, actually”), assuring Cardinal a cult profile.
Cardinal’s “Her” (demo from 2008):
So imagine my surprise when, during an interview last year, Matthews told me that he and Davies, now a Boston-based attorney, were collaborating again: “He’s writing small batches of songs, handing them to me, and I’m working them in up in the Cardinal fashion. We currently have three that are done; once we have an album, the goal would be to have Richard come out to my studio and help me finish it off with his vocals, and Bob Fay on drums. It’s ‘old school’ Cardinal, the Toy Bell EP lineup (from 1993).”
It sounded too good to be true, and alas, that’s exactly what it proved to be: Matthews recently posted on his site that “the long-suffering plans for a Cardinal reunion have been canceled. In the end, Richard and I decided to shut the project down over what are essentially ‘creative differences.’” (Or put more plainly: another big fight of the variety Matthews once told me was basically Davies calling him late one night to insist that he “had entered his life to destroy him.” Sheesh, what a drama queen.) Normally I’d just pick up a phone and talk with Matthews about the situation, but given that he’s stopped talking to me since my positive but perhaps too-candid assessment of his last album, The Imagination Stage, I’ll just have to speculate on the nature of the fallout and point out that Davies has his own album in the works with former GBV/Olympic team-drinking champion Bob Pollard. You can hear all three finished Cardinal songs here and wish upon a star at what might’ve been one of the more anticipated reunions of the ’00s. Or you can, you know, go about your business living a normal life and stuff.