In late 1970, shortly after his band Matthews Southern Comfort hit number one in Great Britain with its version of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” Ian Matthews decided that he needed more creative freedom and left for a solo career. The subsequent album, If You Saw Thro’ My Eyes, his fourth and best release since leaving Fairport Convention in 1969, was recorded and released within the next few months. It also reunited him with former Fairport bandmates Sandy Denny, who had left the band in late 1969, and Richard Thompson, who would depart by the time of this album’s release. Both would bring their distinctive personalities to the proceedings without ever overwhelming Matthews’ own vision. As a bandleader and songwriter, Matthews’ growth is quite evident here, guiding a stellar cast through seven excellent new originals and three well-chosen covers (also included is the a cappella “Hinge” and its instrumental reprise). Throughout, Matthews’ sweet yet evocative tenor is perfect for the material, which succeeds in its blend of British and American folk, rock, and pop. Furthermore, he once again shows a keen eye for the work of others, while also proving his prowess as a first-rate interpretive singer. A pair of songs written by the late folksinger Richard Farina — “Reno, Nevada” (resurrected from Ian’s days with Fairport) and “Morgan the Pirate” — are given fresh, inspired readings, highlighted by Thompson, Tim Renwick, and Andy Roberts’ superb guitar interplay, providing a real folk-rock edge. But it’s the beautiful, prayerlike title track that is the record’s crowning moment. Joined simply by Denny’s piano and breathtaking second vocal, along with a tasteful backwards guitar interlude by Renwick, Matthews’ quiet plea for guidance is as moving and personal a song as he’s ever recorded. A number of other highlights, such as “Hearts,” “Southern Wind,” “It Came Without Warning,” and “You Couldn’t Lose,” make If You Saw Thro’ My Eyes one of the best efforts by a Fairport alumnus.