Sunday, 21 August 2016

Dennis Rea Tanabata Ensemble - Black River Transect

Dennis Rea is a guitarist and musical free spirit who resides on the north western edge of the USA up there in Seattle where he is a well known presence in that far-flung city's left field music scene.

In the past I have ventured deep into the densely populated hinterland of Dennis' musical legacy, a never less than interesting journey that has spotlighted some real musical gems, the common thread being a quest for new and innovative ways of expression.

The latest chapter is Black River Transect, an intriguing album of stark contrasts, recorded live in Seattle's Chapel Performance Space on two different dates in 2013, by Dennis' Tanabata Ensemble.

The opening four tracks where recorded on 25th February of that year, and the album opens with the lovely and romantic piece ASJ (septet), named for Dennis' life partner Anne Smith Joiner. The gentle and cosseting opening tune is in full contrast to the guided improvisation of the title track that follows, which opens with the unsettling airs of a didjeridoo, accompanied by odd sounds with a likeness to a barking wild dog, and later something akin to a distressed elephant, and of course Dennis' steely sharp guitar, sustained on scything notes that gradually up the ante to arrive at a rhythmic cacophony deep in the jungle. A transect is "a straight line or narrow section through an object..." and the schism between ASJ (septet) and Black River Transect illustrate that perfectly.

The line is re-crossed for the lilting but edgy Swaylone's Island, Dennis' keening guitar melody leading the ensemble in a slow waltz across glowing embers. We return to improvisation for Harmoniker, a guided piece during which "each improviser played only those scale degrees that occurred within the spelling of their name; e.g., Beth Fleenor = B, E, F." Good job the band were not of Polish origin, eh? Joking aside this is an intriguing piece that is as different from the coruscating improv of title track as can be, slowly revealing a sense in the madness, before becoming loud and righteous in its final section.

The final track was recorded later in 2013, on 6th July, and features Dennis' colleague in the marvellous furious-prog instrumental band Moraine, James DeJoie, who arranges a "trombone choir" in an extended and beautiful "slight return" to the theme of the opening track. 

Unfortunately I cannot find any samples to link to, so this is just like one of those reviews from the pre-internet daze...you'll just have to take my word for it!

Bookending an album of typically single-minded experimentation merged with composition, Dennis Rea has made a musical sandwich with a highly unusual filling that is neither "jazz" nor "avant" nor indeed any convenient post-hole, but stands on its own, just like the rest of his singularly individualistic canon. Most definitely one for the adventurous!

Tracklist:
1. ASJ (septet)
2. Black River Transect (for Princess Angeline)*
3. Swaylone’s Island
4. Harmoniker 
5. ASJ (trombone choir) 

Line up:
Tracks 1-4:
Dennis Rea – guitar
Stuart Dempster – trombone, didgeridu
James DeJoie – bass clarinet
Beth Fleenor – clarinet
Kate Olson – soprano saxophone
John Seman – double bass
Tom Zgonc – drums

Track 5:
Dennis Rea – guitar
Kate Olson – soprano saxophone
John Seman – double bass
Paul Kikuchi – drums
Trombone choir: Sara Mayo (alto trombone); Stuart Dempster, Moc Escobedo, Masa Ohtake, Naomi Siegel (tenor trombones); Steve Harreld, Jen Hinkle, Chad Kirby, Greg Powers (bass trombones); Benn Hansson (contrabass trombone)

Links & Info:

I have scribbled various articles about the works of Dennis Rea in the past, type his name in the search box at the top of the page, and take your pick! Essentially though, you should at least have a gander at his vast discography, my overview of which can be found HERE.


* From Dennis' notes: 

The title invokes the vanished Black River that once drained Lake Washington from its southern end into Elliott Bay in the Salish Sea, before the excavation of the Ship Canal in north Seattle lowered the level of the lake and left this once-vital transportation corridor and its Native villages nothing but a memory. The track’s dedicatee, “Princess Angeline” (Kikisoblu), was the daughter of Chief Sealth; she spent much of her life in a hovel on the tide flats where, like her dispossessed people in general, she was subjected to callous indignities by the fast-growing city’s residents.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

The Courage Of Others

You know me, I don't particularly like Prog, a style of rock music that rather than move on from its roots regularly exhumes the corpse to take it on yet another Bryden Two Step into the dance hall of nostalgia...or summat.

Apart from its musical museum curating, another problem with Prog are its lyrics, which for the most part delight in telling us in oft repeated ways how shit everything is...really? I had no idea..., mixed with a generous helping of "woe is me". There are exceptions to this rule of course, which would seem to apply to prog metal more than anything else. Modern prog lyrics also shy away from anything directly political, preferring to remain in the field of personal politics, or occasionally making vague ironic generalisations along the lines of "We don't need no educashun". Not that Floyd were a Prog band anyway, but that's another discussion.

For a long time now, one of the bands that seem to me to epitomise this ginnel for backward looking navel gazers is The Tangent, a group mysteriously revered by men (and a few ladies) of a certain age. To them, their leader Andy Tillison can do no wrong, and the comment "Tillison is God" has cropped up in many a forum and YouTube thread over the years.

I've had a few run-ins with Tangent fans and indeed Mr Tillison in the past, but as often occurs, the man at the centre of this turns out to be a decent chap, for Andy is a bloke whose worldview is from the heart, and his taste in music is almost as good as mine! When I heard recently that he had unleashed yet another twenty-minute epic on the world, although obviously it was good to see him fully active again after his health problems, I inwardly groaned...o gawd, not another one, I thought.


And there it is, A Few Steps Down The Wrong Road in all its glory.

Mr T's lyrics have often ventured into social commentary in the past, sometimes more successfully than others, but I don't want to drag up that album again. However with this new one he goes for the jugular in the manner of the old punk rocker he really is with an outpouring of justified righteous anger that burns down post-Brexit Britain like an unstoppable flow of molten lava. Yes, some of his arguments are over-simplified, but this is Yorkie plain speaking, telling it straight like Boycott minus the grating irritation factor. What Andy venomously spits out, looking uncannily like an unhinged Arthur Brown in the video all needs saying, and it is 100% spot on. I have not heard a prog rock song this angry since...ever? There was a moment just before Gustav Holst's Thaxted is wrung out of Luke Machin's guitar, when Andy's rising tide of anger and frustration at his fellow Brits' calamitous decision on 23rd June hits an emotive crescendo that made me well up, and sent a shiver down my spine. I never in a million years suspected that anything by The Tangent would be remotely capable of getting that reaction from the cynical old bugger that is yours truly. Knock me dahn wiv a fevver, Clevor Trevor!

The music is almost secondary, painting a fine canvas, with the reed blowing of Theo Travis being a particular highlight. In typical overblown Tangent fashion this epic probably would have worked better as two songs as there is a natural split not long after the Thaxted section. Frankly though, that criticism is irrelevant, as Andy Tillison has written a lyric that will send ripples out across the Progpond for many a week to come. There has already been some averse reaction from conservative-minded fans saying he should leave the overt politics alone, and that they have no place in Prog, or that it makes them feel "uncomfortable", poor lambs. Bollocks say I, all good art, let alone music, takes risks in dark times to expose the heavy manners it was created under, otherwise an anodyne bland Hell awaits.

All good art also requires an open mind to enable its creation, and frankly I have never understood how anyone who purports to be a lover of art, in this case music, can have a closed and conservative (big and/or little "c" optional) mindset, thus leading to the kind of criticism mentioned. You may not agree with the politics (boo to you!) but surely you can only admire the heart-on-sleeve honesty? This song is a courageous move by Andy Tillison, and I salute his bravery, flying in the face of the cosseted outlook of a lot of his own fans. More power to him, I say!

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Pulling Fish Through Grandma's Eyes

Lunch, day two of Inglund's Test Match at the crickball against Paraguay, and Inglund were holding up rather well against the long feared world beaters at the intricate game, as fortunately Paraguay's propensity for conjuring reverse swing in 19/8 time on any surface you care to imagine had yet to rear its maniacally grinning head.

Jonners Agnew is in the talkbox, once more regaling us all with his lifelong post-Gabriel Genesis and Phil Collins obsession, flummoxing his listeners with reams of useless information pertaining to the once all-conquering purveyors of pop-prog for Sunday golfers and upmarket car salesmen. Joining him is Archjook Geff'ry Boycs, ex-crickballist and pugilistic student of cutting edge avant garde progressive music. Back in the 14th century Duke Geff'ry legendarily held onto his wicket throughout the entire course of the Six Week War, scoring a mere 57 rounders in the time, until Sire Iron Broth lost his by then tenuous grip on patience, and had Boycs run over by a groundsman with a roller. No-one cared that this was strictly illegal as Boycs was mightily pissing off everyone, thus laying the ground for a career invoking unreasonable irritation in even the most mild-mannered of peasants up and down the land. As we know to our cost this continued after he retired from the game, with his ongoing and seemingly endless stint in the talkbox. These days Boycs maintains his knack of annoying those of a reasonable dispostion, as his grating natter is now into its 67th season, and shows no signs of stopping. Mind you, he knows his minimalist avant-funk, amongst other wilfully obscure musical ginnels.

Jonners: Good Morning to you Geff'ry, how are are you on this fine sunny day?

Boycs: Ah'm grand. Ma dad used to work six days a week down t'pit tha knows, so ah'm grand. And tha can stop thy blather about Genesis, they split up centuries ago. There's some reet proper music being made by folk who still function, and it's about time tha was educated.

Jonners: Whoever you are referring to are not popular, are they? They have not had megatastic hits of such splendiferousness as Invisible Crutch, or Cheesy Lover, or Ps-ps-pseudio, or...

Boycs: Oh do shut up Jonners. It's our job to put bums on seats, and ah knows you were one of those intolerant johnny-come-lately dolts throwing furniture at Devo at Knobwerth in 1978. Ah recommend the new album by that Colin Robinson fella. He's from ma neck o' t'woods, although ah'm none too sure about all those arty anarcho-hippy types who live up thar in 'Ebden Bridge, 'appen. Jumble Hole Clough is name o' t'band and Bela Lugosi's Dad is name o' t'album.

Jonners: Are they anything like Genesis, then?

Boycs: Aye, well, is David Steele like Viv Richards? They both played crickball. Imagine another band from God's Own County, them Gang of Four chaps, mek 'em stop being gloomy buggers and hide their trenchcoats and well-thumbed copies of Das Kapital, and you'd be absolutely nowhere near, as Jumble Hole Clough also dabble in fragile ambience inspired by their lovely locale.

Jonners: Gang of who?

Boycs: Ah'm sorry, but you av to tell it straight. That is simply not good enough. In ma day the captain would av you up against the lockers for ignorance like that. By 'eck you mek me feel reet old. Now then lad, this is going to take a while, let's start again.

Jonners: (Giggling) Did you know I've just bought a second home by the sea?

Boycs: How old are you? Twelve? Pay attention son, you might learn something. This Robinson chap must be some sort of socialist, he releases all his music for nowt. Not a bean. Now, tha knows me, ah'm no fan them socialist types. Only t'other day ah was moaning about why can't ah get my groceries delivered at two in the morning. If there's a market for it, it should be provided for, ah reckon. Ah'm sure some nice Polish fella'd be up for it. Anyway, this Robinson chap, he's very prolific, ah can't keep up with him. But while we're at lunch ah thought ah'd mention his new album as it's nay bad at all. Ah never realised...or ah forgot, ah'm not as young as thee...but Bela Lugosi's Dad has some proper songs. Aye, that means lyrics, and reet bloody surreal they are too:

"53 men, huddled in the hall 
To all intents and purposes, there’s no-one there at all 
Just a little up the road, that’s where it will end. 
Forgotten men around the bend 

Get the mucus moving"

Tha's from a snappily titled tune called A cardboard box containing my mother's hair.

Jonners: That makes no sense at all...

Boycs: Spot on...'appen that's the point son. It means whatever you want it to. You should see Sailing with me on the Zuider Zee. Insanely catchy and quite nonsensical, it'll get tha singing in the shower.


Jonners: I can't imagine you singing. Shouting, yes, but not singing.

Boycs: Tha cheeky young whippersnapper. I'll have thee know ah was in t'school choir.

Jonners: I'll bet you unintentionally slowed the beat down. Or deliberately, come to think of it.

Boycs: Ah avn't come here to be insulted...

All: Oh yes you have, that's why we pay you!

....

Tracklist:
1. I reached into the chimney and pulled out a sewing machine (25th October 1415) (5:03)
2. A cardboard box containing my mother's hair (3:20)
3. Abandoned Lunch Invokes State Of Nirvana (3:21)
4. Twilight of The Mods (3:23)
5. En prélude à une entorse au poignet (6:34)
6. Henry is still missing (4:21)
7. Ikarus preparing to leave the Great Synagogue (4:10)
8. Mother surrounded by silence (2:22)
9. Neglected Crazy Golf Course (3:51)
10. Rain / train / aeroplane (2:05)
11. Wedding car outside a chip shop in Halifax (3:04)
12. Sailing with me on the Zuider Zee (2:33)

Line up:
All songs written, played, recorded and produced by Colin Robinson, with:
Richard Knutson - microKorg (track 1)
Liam Robinson - electric double bass and bass guitar (tracks 2,4 and 12)

Links:
Jumble Hole Clough Bandcamp


Monday, 1 August 2016

BBC Proms 2016 - David Bowie

Opening with Warszawa was a smart move, as it is probably Bowie's most symphonic piece, and segueing into the atonal chug of Station To Station seemed only natural. The vocals were led by Neil Hannon who was giving it his best Thin White Duke impression, ably abetted by Amanda Palmer.
Bowie was one for never doing the obvious,  and looking down on the increasingly surreal world he has left behind, can only have approved of the scope and daring of this secular celebration of his musical legacy.

A percussive arrangement of Life On Mars was fronted by a typically full on Marc Almond, the drama of song and singer being a perfect fit. Anna Calvi put Lady Grinning Soul firmly in the Berlin cabaret with a portentous arrangement from the orchestra that was my favourite interpretation of the concert. She ended it with some cacophonous slide work on her Telecaster. Marvellous stuff!

Other successes were Conor O'Brien giving a heartfelt and soulful performance of The Man Who Sold The World, Paul Buchanan's querulous AshesTo Ashes, and John Cale's suitably avant Valentine's Day. Cale and Calvi got together for Sorrow, but it was more like a rock band backed by some strings and seemed rather out of place, even though Calvi in particular made a marvellous racket!

The expansive and anthemic pop of Heroes perhaps did not work so well, although ultimately the strength of Amanda Palmer's delivery won the day. A lot has been said about Marc Almond's delivery of Starman. Let's just say it was nowhere near as bad as I was expecting given some of the more barbed comments I have seen. He might have got a bit carried away, but he never has been quite on the note, has he? Bless him.

The only way to take on songs as recognisable as these is to reinvent, and of course the chamber orchestra takes it halfway there, it then becomes the task of the singer to complete the remodeling. Most of the time that was the approach taken, but conversely Laura Mvula's take on Fame stayed faithful and the sound of a chamber orchestra getting funky was a delight.

Laura stayed for the moving Blackstar trilogy, joined by Paul Buchanan and Anna Calvi. These songs are still fresh, so radical reinterpretations are no real shock, more than maintaining the raw emotions of the originals. Amanda Palmer and Anna Calvi channeling Blackstar while both wearing black and crowns of thorns was particularly moving, with a superb arrangement from the orchestra to top it off.

The most adventurous reinterpretation has to be David Lang's complete restructuring of Always Crashing In The Same Car, led by an electric harp and sung in the upper register by classical countertenor Phillipe Jarousky. Quite enthralling I must say.

The large cast assembled for Space Oddity, led by John Cale's iconic baritone, backed by the House Gospel Choir. Despite the numbers on stage it was a tastefully restrained, unhurried, and unusual rearrangement that worked a treat. The entire cast plus the RAH organ assembled for the grand finale of After All, started off by the slightly wayward Marc Almond. A typically unobvious song to end an evening out of left field, just as David Bowie would have liked. The celebration ended with a crowd singalong to Let's Dance, proving it wasn't all high art.

Overall the concert was an undoubted artistic success, as long as it was approached with an open mind, which is exactly what is needed where any format of progressive music is concerned, as this Proms certainly was. Mr Jones would have approved...now, please can we have some of the reality back that you seemed to have taken with you when you left our beleaguered planet?

Monday, 18 July 2016

Markus Reuter - Fool In Music

Markus Reuter is a name you may have heard of, but likely as not, you haven't. Those of you to whom the name is unfamiliar are in for a treat, as Markus Reuter is one of the most innovative musicians of our time, and has played with many, many people, and composed hundreds of pieces of music. His favoured instrument is nominally the touch guitar, but that is only the start of it. Markus has extracted noises out of his various stringed instruments via all kinds of manipulations and in tandem with varied exotic electronica, that those of us musically challenged twangers who barely got beyond 12-bar blooze have nary the capacity to even dream of.

Those of you who are familiar with the name will, like me initially, probably know him as a member of Stick Men, where he plays the studious foil to founder members Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto's more animated presence, and on this compilation his trusty touch guitar never seems too far from the picture.

What really grabbed my attention was catching Markus' documentary on the recording of his modern classical tone piece Todmorden 513. The documentary was broadcast a few years ago on BBC4, and is a captivating if understated film, rather in tune with Markus' low-key personality, telling the story of a truly fascinating piece of music, composed for a full orchestra by our unassuming hero.



Here's the full documentary...well worth watching, save it for later!

Sorry, got slightly sidetracked there for a moment! The point of this article is Fool In Music, which is a two and a half hour long career-spanning compilation, naturally including one of the movements of Todmorden 513. Everything on this compilation is a delight to listen to, and all facets of Markus' many-sided musical personality are revealed. Beginning with the Rypdalesque creeping black wash of ambience that is Mundo Nuevo, Part 2 from the titular album of collaborative soundcscapes released last year, we are taken on a journey guided by the satnav of Markus' never obvious muse into strange but always interesting sonic lands.

Getting the more well known Stick Men in early, this time featuring David Cross, is a good attention-grabbing move. From last year's rather fine Midori live album, the second track on this compilation is the rollicking Hide The Trees, and it tells you everything you need to know about this great band's intuitive chemistry.

In case you were worried that I was going to go through this thing track by track, fear not, I am not that cruel, or of an inkling to write endless Joycean-length sentences in that prosaic reviewing style, you will no doubt be pleased to hear! No, suffice to say in summary that everything between the two opposite poles of those first two tracks is present and correct on Fool In Music. I will however make honourable mentions for a few highlights, which in itself is difficult enough as there are no obvious low points to avoid...here goes:

The Inner Voice is from Lee Fletcher's Faith In Worthless Things, a fab album to which Markus contributed a major part of the writing, and on this track we hear his touch guitars doing their thang with aplomb. This tune is a the first of only a handful of fully fledged songs on the compilation, which for the most part is entirely instrumental. This time out, we find Lisa Fletcher's lovely unaffected vocal taking centre stage. If Lee is reading this, please get out from behind that mixing console and make another album!

The Wedding is the first of four tracks by Markus' post-everything electronic experimental band Centrozoon, who first peeked over the horizon in 1999, and who are still occasionally releasing music, their last album being the tumescently titled Boner in 2012, which I have yet to hear. Obstensibly a duo, with Markus' touch guitars and electronic manipulations being joined by fellow German Bernhard Wöstheinrich on synths, electronic percussion and other weird and wonderful effects, Centrozoon have added guests along the way including Tim Bowness, Tobias Reber, and Markus' long-time musical colleague Pat Mastelotto. Pat crops up on numerous offerings on this compilation.

How Things Turned Out, Part 7 is taken from a nine-part rule-based minimalistic improv, and perhaps points the way to Markus' grand opus Todmorden 513. For me the best example of ambient here is Markus' collaboration with Zero Ohms aka Richard Roberts whose "wind-controlled synthesisers & over 50 various flutes, saxes, & other woodwinds" added to Markus' touch guitars and some weird thing called a "recursive accumulation device" create a stately construction of meditative contemplation during the unfolding mystery of Indescribable. This is contrasted completely with the following brief atonal cacophony of Amsterdam. Modus 7, from the superbly named Quartet for The End of Time play out an Escher staircase of strange ascending scales that reaches a plateaux nervous thrumming pent up energy, before carrying on ever upwards.

Colour Vision sees Markus teaming up with renowned alt-electronica figure Ian Boddy, a collaboration that has produced many albums over the years. It is another twist on ambient technique, that unusually features a guitar...that sounds like a guitar. Icily calm and crystalline, it is another dreamscape of seemingly effortless assemblage.

TUNER are Markus and Pat Mastelotto, and they function both as a production team and as a wilfully strange "rock" band, the unsettling rhythmically propelled lurch of Up, Down Forward and Return being yet another compilation highlight. Centrozoon return with the slinky funk of Pop Killer, featuring the last vocal on the album, delivered in typical swoonsome fashion by the unmistakable Tim Bowness.

Most, if not all these tunes seem to come from Markus' more recent output of the last few years, and Velveteen by Nocturne Blue is part of a work in progress, being a song-by-song release as they are individually crowdfunded. Aiming to be completed by 1st October 2016, the album is titled I Came for the Light and Stayed for the Shadows. Nocturne Blue are Markus, Adrian Belew Power Trio bassist Julie Slick and audio-visual artist Dutch Rail. The track itself is an unhurried revelation of serenity, giving one pause for thought.

Ehkor by Namgar is a fusion of traditional Mongolian instrumentation, with Namgar's haunting vocal, married to modern studio techniques. The end result is quite beguiling, and draws inevitable comparisons with Peter Gabriel's "world music" (gawd, I hate that term, how about "Non-Anglo"?) influenced output.

After the atypically heavy Impulse Response by Adrian Benavides, we end where we almost began, in the more familiar terrain of the Stick Men. Despite promising not to do a "track-by-track" dissection, it has been hard omitting anything, as these two and a half hours have flown by, and none of it is wasted time. I have highlighted less than half the album's 28 tracks, but hopefully that has been enough to tempt you to at least follow the link below and give Fool In Music a listen.

Get this FREE compilation of a truly individualistic talent, pick your favourite and buy a download, it's the least Markus Reuter deserves.

Tracklist:
No chance! Go to Bandcamp and get it HERE.

Line up:
Ditto!

Links
Markus Reuter website
Markus Reuter Bandcamp
Centrozoon Bandcamp
Stick Men Bandcamp
Lee Fletcher Bandcamp
Nocturne Blue Bandcamp

Saturday, 25 June 2016

The Bevis Frond - New River Head

At the end of the 1980s I discovered this strange psychedelic rock band called The Bevis Frond. I cannot now remember how or exactly when I came across this fabulous noise, it was the 80s you see. That decade was my version of the old mantra about the 60s "if you can remember them, you weren't there". The Bevis Frond was actually one bloke and a portable studio, at least for the first couple of albums, not that I knew that then. They/he made a noise out of time, transposing 1967 psychedelia with a heavy Hendrix fixation into the modern age with the help of Nick Saloman's world weary lyrics and careworn nasal London intonation. The second album proper Inner Marshlands released in 1987 remains a classic of the psych genre.

By 1991, and by now a proper touring band, the Frond were up to their fifth album, and when you include two additional collections of early and unreleased recordings, this prolific songsmith had released seven albums in four years! With New River Head, the Frond hit creative heights, cramming every imaginable style into four sides of vinyl, from folk influenced tunes featuring violinist Barry Dransfield, to Stoogian punkarama with honking sax, to grungy pop, and angry psych-punk, via full on guitar freakouts, to reflective singer-songwriter fare, and not forgetting a lysergic ambient trip though imaginary landscapes. Those latter lunar undulations feature in the ten minute plus excursion on side three under the title of The Miskatonik Variations II, probably the trippiest thing heard back in 1991 since well before punk broke cover.


Ramalamafafafa...with chips...


The universe in eight minutes...

Producing countless albums and playing hundreds of gigs up to a hiatus in 2004 brought on by the death of his mother, Nick Saloman and his trusty band of cosmic warriors played music that was simultaneously nostalgic for scuzzy late 60s hippy/proto-punk noise, but brought bang up to date with the furious energy of modenistic outsider blues narrated with a drawn out sigh, or a cynical sneer. all played out well below the radar, the preserve of a select few. Consequently, The Bevis Frond have been something of a best kept secret, but with Fire Records ongoing reissue program getting attention in the mainstream music press, hopefully Saloman's rightful place in Rock's Rich Tapestry is now assured with the re-release of New River Head, his most all-encompassing work.

Tracklist:
Side 1
1. White Sun
2. Drowned
3. She's Entitled To
4. Waving
5. Down In The Well
6. New River Head
Side 2
1, Solar Marmalade
2. Wild Jack Hammer
3. He'd Be A Diamond
4. Undertaker
5. Stain On The Sun
Side 3
1. Motherdust
2. Cuvie
3. Thankless Task
4. The Miskatonic Variations II
Side 4
1. It Won't Come Again
2. Blurred Vision
3. Son Of Many Mothers
4. Chinese Burn
5. God Speed You To Earth

This track listing is from my original Woronzow double LP. The tracklisting on the Bandcamp download after the end of "Side 2" is in a different order, and also includes bonus material.

Line up:
Nick Saloman - All instruments, principally guitar, vocals
Martin Crowley - Drums
Cyke Bancroft - Sax, Harp 1.1, 3.4, 4.4
Barry Dransfield - Violin 1.4, 3.3, 3.4
Adrian Shaw - Bass 2.1, 3.4
Bari Watts - Lead guitar 2.2, 3.4, 4.2
David Tibet - Chanting 3.4

Links:
Fire Records Facebook
The Bevis Frond Bandcamp

"I got no point I wish to make. I just wanna be your undertaker"


Sunday, 29 May 2016

The MOJO CD - Blonde On Blonde Revisited



The best MOJO covers CDs are usually their classic album reinterpretation extravaganzas. This time around it's an album that probably gets in every Bob Dylan fan's top five, the iconic and groundbreaking Blonde On Blonde, half a century old this year. This artist is a natural for the MOJO treatment, as it has often been the case that Dylan's more accessible songs in particular often sound better performed by someone else. I mean, even the most fanatical Dylanologist cannot deny that Hendrix's version of All Along The Watchtower takes that song into another universe. That's probably the most obvious example, and as you know, there are several others.

However, some Dylan songs can and should only be played by the Minnesota Bard himself, and there are many of those on this classic album, so let's see how it rolls...


Malcolm Middleton - Rainy Day Women #12 & #35

As ever, the best way to cover an iconic tune is to reinvent it, and here Middleton does just that, turning Dylan's stoned showband stagger into a menacing electro-drone march of the undead, which I would imagine is an atypical approach for the indie-folkie. You don't have to be stoned but it probably helps. A promising start.

My Darling Clementine - Pledging My Time

MOJO being a mainstream magazine, and me being buried deep within the obscuranist culture bunker, it comes as no surprise that most of the artists on this CD are names hitherto unknown to me, and this country duo are no exception to that rule. This is so stripped back and downhome, you can almost see the porch of the tumbledown shack from which these two strum and croon their thang. Yee-ha!

Steve Gunn - Visions of Johanna

His voice may sound like this anyway, I wouldn't know, but Gunn's otherwise warm-hearted countryfied cover of this song struggles with and occasionally fails in its task to not become an admittedly decent Zim impersonation, but an impersonation nonetheless.

Chip Taylor - One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later)

A funereal atmosphere pervades a claustrophobic version of the tune from the songwriter best known for penning Wild Thing. Unusually for the Zim the song contains a relatively literal lyric that is not much open to interpretation. Taylor turns up the melancholy to 11. Pass the hankies. One of the better covers on this album.

Phosphorescent - I Want You

Dylan's allegorical paen to desire given a subtle treatment by American singer-songwriter Matthew Houk aka Phosphorescent. Although there is nothing particularly remarkable about this version, as with others on this CD, the strength of the song easily overcomes any tendency by the artist in question to meekly follow in Bob's footsteps. Quite nice actually

Promised Land Sound - Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again

Ah, this is more like it, someone with the cojones to stamp their own identity on a well-known tune. Country-psych reverb-heavy wigginess makes this a joyful little romp that while not as radical as Malcolm Middleton's approach does enough to be different, flying off into the cosmos at the end in a heady swirl of sound.

Michael Chapman - Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat

One wilful and highly individualistic talent covers another, and such is Chapman's weight of experience, the tune becomes instantly his. Some great slide work at the end of this 12 bar boogie-shuffle is a delight to behold.

Peter Bruntnell - Just Like A Woman

A common approach on this album is for the artist to strip away the music and expose Dylan's lyrics for the wonderful things they are, and this is another that takes that route, slowing the tune down to a crawl into the bargain. The trouble is, it seems to suck the life out of the thing. A good cure for insomnia, methinks.

Thomas Cohen - Most Likely You Go Your Way And I'll Go Mine

Whereas the last one was soporific, this fizzes with attitude and a funky swagger and is far better as a result. Another of the better ones on here.

Kevin Morby - Temporary Like Achilles

Kevin Morby and his acoustic guitar do Woody Guthrie covering Dylan, and given the obvious connection it works just fine. Sounds like it was recorded on one microphone in his kitchen, which only adds to the atmosphere.

Marissa Nadler - Absolutely Sweet Marie

This CD is somewhat lacking in female representation, and here we have only the second female voice on the album. Marissa Nadler, who has already released an album of cover versions that included two Dylan songs turns in an ethereal version of the tune with an elegiac feel. Spooky.

As for the lack of female interpretations, I would have loved to have heard The Unthanks cover one of these tunes.

Ryley Walker - 4th Time Around

American folkie Ryley Walker plays out a respectful and atmospheric cover of Dylan paying homage to Lennon paying homage to Dylan...or summat.

Night Beats - Obviously 5 Believers

This version of the energetic Obviously 5 Believers by Night Beats, whom MOJO describe as a "psych-soul" band fair zips along with youthful zeal. Sounds like an 18-year old Dr John, heavy on the voodoo gumbo.

Jim O'Rourke - Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands

...and we end with only the fifth artist I'd heard of before on this compilation. The multi-talented O'Rourke is a natural to cover the "epic" on the album, Dylan's song of awe to his then new wife Sara Lownds. Mixing found sounds with simple but effective instrumentation over its gently unfolding 13 minutes, this is a great way to end a largely successful album of reinterpretations.


MOJO Magazine