From his days in the baroque-pop combo Cardinal to his excellent cover of Elliott Smith's "Needle In The Hay," Eric Matthews has demonstrated a consistent genius for producing great arrangements and sonic frills from others' solid templates—but not so much with his solo songs. On The Imagination Stage, he once again tries to save "a music half-blind and afraid to fly," per the title track, from itself. On "Her Life," a typically immaculate brass-trio-vs.-pipe-organ breakdown is more arresting than the surrounding song. More often, he gets the song/arrangement mix right, as on "Little 18," with its pleasingly XTC-esque basic piano chords and yelping vocals. The results can bleed into each other, but Matthews neglects melody for instrumentation less than he once did.

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