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The Matadors

Get Down from the Tree!

Rating: 3.5/5.0

Label: Munster

If you were a young man in the mid-’60s, your best bet for getting laid may just have been to form a rock band. At least, that seems to have been the tactic the young Czechs in the Matadors took when they formed in 1965, with the new compilation Get Down from the Tree! hoping to reintroduce the lusty group to the world. Perhaps most accurately described as a freakbeat group, the Matadors went on to become one of Czechoslovakia’s most popular bands, to the point that in their home country they were seen to be the Stones to rival outfit Olympic’s Beatles.

The comparison is apt in theme if not sound- the Matadors were a group who obviously loved to emphasize the testosterone-fueled lust of their music wherever possible. Much of that sexual aggression comes from the vocals of Viktor Sodoma Jr., whose larynx shredding on R&B standard “I Think It’s Gonna Work Out Fine” recalls the similarly animated Eric Burdon as it builds from quietly pleading to straight out demanding. The Animals comparisons don’t stop there, either, as these Czechs were so dependent on their own combo organ sound that they even named their band after the model they preferred.

Beginning with an organ line that veers between “96 Tears” cheesiness and “House of the Rising Sun” potency, “I Think It’s Gonna Work Out Fine” overcomes its been-there-done-that feeling through Sodoma’s vocal control. The singer breathes life into what could have otherwise been an anonymous track, walking a thin line between passionate and flat-out crazed. Though Sodoma is quite often the most appealing aspect of the Matadors, the band could hold their own and on the moments where they put everything on the line they reveal themselves to be more than your average beat group.

“Old Mother Hubbard” is a sterling example of this, taking an early Kinks-style groove and then exploding into a trippy, bluesy breakdown halfway through that would have made even the mighty Creation sweat. Curiously, it’s one of the only tracks to feature original vocalist Vladimír Mišík. Likewise, one of the group’s most interesting songs features rhythm guitarist Karel Kahovec, who was yet another of the group’s pre-Sodoma vocalists.

That would be the eerie “Sing a Song of Sixpence,” an early single by the group that actually predates similar (if more masterful and ambitious) work by the Pretty Things on “Defecting Grey.” Set off by a volatile bassline and a “Paint It Black”-like guitar riff, “Sixpence” turns Kahovec’s quietly mixed, wispy vocal into a thing of suspenseful dread rather than the obstacle it could have been. For whatever reason, the Matadors wouldn’t return to the ground they covered with “Sixpence,” though Kahovec would eventually leave the band to form the psychedelic Flamengo.

Under Sodoma’s direction the band would explore more well-trodden R&B territory for some time with only occasional forays into the psychedelic, as is the case with improvised instrumental “Extraction.” It was that tendency to liberally borrow from the dominant British R&B bands of the time, though, that kept the Matadors from achieving real brilliance. The group would occasionally find some version of that, as with the Animals-meet-Scott-Walker sound of “I Want to See You.” The ambitious pop of “I Want to See You,” with its epic arrangement and lush strings, offers a short glimpse at what the Matadors could have been if they’d recorded more than an album and a handful of singles, particularly when paired with the spacey “Extraction.”

Get Down from the Tree! is nonetheless enjoyable if you’re already a freak beat aficionado, with some great if derivative performances. But with the sheer glutof these kind of releases available at the moment, it’s not recommended to newcomers or dabblers.

by Nick Hanover

Key Tracks: I Want to See You, Six a Song of Sixpence

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