Multi-instrumentalist and deep-dub specialist Stewart Matthewman spends his spare time as Cottonbelly, making music, and remixing that of others. That is, when he's not laboring over one of the many day jobs he strings together to try to pay the bills and put some kind of food on the table. Besides 20 years hard toil as songwriter and band leader for consistently multi-platinum smooth-soul diva Sade, he's had four as go-to composer for filmmakers Mark and Michael Polish (he's scored Twin Falls Idaho, Jackpot and Northfork), and intermittent periods sweating in major-label band Sweetback.
Cottonbelly's sound -- both in Matthewman's originals, and his remixes of Maxwell, Gregory Isaacs, and (of course) Sade -- digest all of these musical facets and combine them. The ethereal, dubby trip-hop of "Edge Test 1" prepares one for the tabla-laden break-heavy version of Isaacs' classic "Night Nurse" which, in turn, lays the bedding out for Cottonbelly's "Intense Dub" to lie in, King Tubby sound-wash style.
Matthewman's tribal reworking of Sade's "By Your Side" acts as something of a centerpiece here, both as the most recognizable "hit" the record produces and as something of a gauntlet-throwing challenge: "By Your Side" had already been big as an original, and as a deep-house standard when remixed by Everything But The Girl's Ben Watt. Cottonbelly holds his head high with something in between the others, eschewing house conventions for dub while retaining the song's melancholy beauty and pure-voiced integrity.
These recordings date from as early as 1993 and as recently as 2003, showing that the producer's long experience in the studio was already paying dividends 10 years ago. It's wrong to say Cottonbelly's gotten better at what he does in that decade, because the old stuff stands up tall next to the new, but it's easy to guess that what's grown is his consistency: We're in for a lot more of Stewart Matthewman, and that's definitely a good thing.