Lost Treasures – Viv Albertine’s “The Vermillion Border” (Revisited)

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Viv Albertine – “The Vermillion Border”

Cadiz Music (2012)

Authored by Dale Nickey:

Viv Albertine should be anointed patron saint of the domestically dispossessed. After leaving her band The Slits and the music business some three decades ago, she reestablished dominion over her own life after a lengthy submission to the mundane identity of Hastings housewife and mother. When Albertine finally decided to cast off the invisible shackles of marriage, Albertine had no golden parachute of prior chart hits to help zip line her escape from a financially responsible but existentially impoverished husband; a man who possessed no appreciation for the musical visionary he lived with for 17 years.

After releasing an excellent 4 song EP “Flesh” in 2010, Albertine’s formal declaration of independence took the form of her 2012 debut solo album “The Vermillion Border” and it’s a revelation. Albertine is present and in charge throughout the 11 tracks that comprise the album. Each song features her feathery, labyrinthine guitar style and her honey-sweet monotone vocals. And, of further interest is the guest line-up, that features a different bass player on each track – those include; Jack Bruce, Tina Weymouth, Glen Matlock, Danny Thompson and a host of others. If suffering is the compost of good art, “The Vermillion Border” is an art piece 25 years in the making. Stylistically, the album is clearly informed by the artist’s eclectic and inclusive listening habits as well as her life experiences with sexism, cancer, marriage, motherhood and divorce. You would not expect such a catholic variance in style, tone and color from an ex-punker. However, when you factor in that her favorite guitar player is Progressive Guitar icon, Steve Howe from Yes, it all starts to make sense. As a guitarist she conjures an impressive range of sounds and rhythms using muted strings, drone strings, note clusters, capos and chord embellishments.

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“The Vermillion Border” is a rich banquet of mood and tone. As a songwriter, Viv keeps it simple and sticks to verse/chorus song structure with the odd bridge or transition.  Her voice is an unpretentious instrument of persuasion that – when layered and doubled – can add up to significantly more than its component parts.

What follows is a track by track overview of “The Vermillion Border”

1. “I Want More” If any song serves as a manifesto to Albertine’s third act heroics it’s this track. It’s snarly, provocative and cacophonic in equal and proper measure. Lyrically, it works on many levels; as an existential plea to the cosmic referee to put up a few more minutes on the clock, or as an ultimatum to an underachieving partner to raise their game a notch. “I Want More” charges out of the gate hard.

2.“Confessions of a MILF” – The catchiest track on the album is probably the deepest. The artist has alluded to that fact that nursery rhymes are probably the closest thing young girls have to a collective folk music tradition. The song starts off dead simple with a hooky little Telecaster riff as the bedrock to Albertine’s screed against domestic mundanity. As the music builds and gets angrier, so do the lyrics. The volume and dissonance increases unabated as Albertine chants her repetitive mantras of domestic servitude. It all builds to a raucous crescendo with Albertine howling, “SHOES OFF!” before she crumples to the floor breathless while still gasping her desperate incantations through to the end of the track. A fascinating record by any measure. However, the involvement of Albertine’s ex-paramour Mick Jones (The Clash) turns “..Milf” into an epic.

3. “In Vitro” – Here, Albertine alludes to the travails of In Vitro fertilization, in addition to her regime of chemotherapy; the woman has suffered. The In Vitro regime included daily self-administered stomach injections. But, one wonders if the needles she coos so benignly about could also belong to absent friends who ultimately succumbed to the ravages of Heroin. Arguably the most sophisticated and detailed composition on the album.

4. When it was Nice – One imagines this song was written during that transitional period where  rose tinted denial gradually gives way to the realization that that you’ve grown to dislike the person you’re in love with.

5. Hook-up Girl – On this tune Albertine mixes a sappy girl-pop verse with a bouncy malt-shop refrain: all describing the dark melancholy that accompanies a dour, loveless relationship based only on sexual convenience. Clearly, the narrator is not happy with the proffered arrangement, which she describes as… “Blowjobs no kisses”.

6. The False Heart – A druggy mood piece that shuffles sleepily into the twilight zone of despondency. On this piece more than any other, Albertine’s guitar work conveys more than words. Albertine’s voice sounds fragile and emotionally spent, beyond caring. The refrain is a faint schoolyard taunt, wearily repeating the word….liar, liar, liar…

7. Don’t Believe – In her book, Albertine professed her admiration and obsession with John Lennon and his art. “Don’t Believe” is the female riposte to Lennon’s neo-nihilist purge “God”. His influence (lyrically) is clearly present on this track. Written the day her father died, “Don’t Believe” stands as one of the greatest atheist anthems in the Rock pantheon, a slow boil screed where Albertine sneeringly declares belief only in things that she can see, touch and feel. The harmonic structure is a deceptively nuanced, circular guitar riff that brings to mind early XTC.

8. Becalmed (I Should Have Known) – Gorgeous, atmospheric track. Imagine a sober, transgendered Syd Barrett baring his soul after jumping into the existential void without a safety line. Indeed, Albertine’s slithery slide work sounds like it could have been sampled directly from Pink Floyd’s “Relics”.

9. Little Girl In A Box – Having read Albertine’s amazing book “Boys.., Clothes.., Music..”, the lyrics on “The Vermillion Border” scan like a ‘cliff notes’ version of that work. Albertine whispers the lyrics in the manner of a mother reading her daughter to sleep. However, instead of a benign fairy tale, this is a cautionary one for a girl taking her first tentative steps into womanhood. Probably meant for the ears of Albertine’s own daughter. However, the standard mommy speech is clearly extrapolated from personal experience and (possibly) from similar advice given by Albertine’s own mother.

10. Madness of Clouds – Floating, meandering mood piece. The only track on “The Vermillion Border” that courts dispensability.

11. Still England –Clearly, Albertine’s work is informed by that particular love/hate relationship with Britain that other British artists (Kinks, XTC, The Beatles) have mined to great artistic effect. On this tune she gives us a laundry list of the most British of British institutions and celebrities. She somehow combines cultural pride with a healthy distain for bullshit iconography. The song marches along – ticking off such disparate people and entities as The Royal Mail, Kate Bush, David Bowie, Tea, The Roxy, etc…. The final word uttered is ‘cunt’; the most inflammatory, gender specific epithet in the English language. The word is both bracing and startling, while at the same time, it’s uttered casually and unapologetically. Albertine (a stealthy anti-hero in the feminist movement) somehow denudes the word’s power to hurt or shock. “Still England” is the perfect end to a near perfect album.

This writer stubbornly maintains that Rock and Roll as a living, breathing art is dead. However, once in a while a maverick bolt of lightning strikes the corpse and animates the monster to life (however briefly) and thus, forces us to question our pronouncement. “The Vermillion Border” is just such an album.

 

The Purgatory of The Open Mike – “The Girl From The Basement Church”

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The purgatory of the open mic.

by Dale Nickey

The ad in the Recycler read, “Wanted: Singer/Songwriters, Poets and Artists for Open Mic at the Basement Church. Sign Ups at 07:00 p.m. Sunday Night”

I decided to go and perform at The Basement Church in Echo Park. My twenties were gone. My rock star dreams were gone. I now played music because it was an obsession; like sex, like alcohol or drugs. So I started going out and playing open mics as one would go out for casual sex. It was about satisfying an urge.

I showed up a little early as was my custom. The Basement Church was indeed in a basement, but looked very little like a church. As soon as I walked in the door; a smiling, puffy faced gent wearing a puke colored cardigan sweater walked up to me. He was holding a steaming mug of black coffee. He introduced himself as Deacon Jim and invited me to sit at his table. I accepted his invitation. It was a welcoming environment.

I asked him what slots were available and he said he could fit me in third. I could play fifteen minutes. That suited me fine. If I curtailed my stage banter, I could squeeze in five songs.

I looked around the room and it had a nice dark vibe. There was a small bandstand and two mics. The bandstand was a nice bonus. It added gravitas and drama to a performance. I was disappointed to see they had no stool. The height a stool provides gives you a psychological advantage over the audience. If you sit in chair, you are closer to eye level and the performer/audience dynamic is compromised. I didn’t like playing acoustic gigs standing up, so I would use my old trick of swinging my leg over the back of a chair and play standing up on one leg with one foot resting on the seat of the chair; show them you mean business.

There were four or five performers scattered throughout the room. All were concentrating intently on tuning their acoustic guitars and running through chord changes. Most looked fidgety and nervous, as though their futures depended on what would happen during their fifteen minutes onstage. I sat quietly and chatted with Deacon Jim. He seemed interested in talking to me for some reason. It was then I noticed The Girl. She was sitting at the back of the club with her nylon string guitar; the right side of her face obscured by a curtain of clean, straight, brown hair.

Her side view revealed a straight strong back and a beautiful curvature down to her buttocks. Her hands were thin, long and had a musculature that suggested a life of work. Perfect for guitar. Her arms were slender and toned. She was playing a rudimentary classical piece. It sounded nice. She seemed to have a grace about her that none of the other neophytes in the club possessed. I suddenly wished I had a sketchpad and a talent for drawing.

My meditation was shattered by a blustering, but harmless buffoon who entered from a kitchenette in the back. His name was Roy. He was stocky with thick black hair. Deacon Jim seemed well acquainted with Roy as he sat at our table without invitation. I gathered that Roy was a church elder of some sort. He was one of those people who stared at you a little too hard and a little too long. Deacon Jim cut him off gently and stood up to start the proceedings.

First up was a serious, bearded, long haired kid. He was far more handsome than he was talented and seemed to know it. He sang a James Taylor tune and a Leonard Cohen tune. He also sang a couple of tunes I assumed were original. He stumbled on chords a couple of times and wore a ‘deer in the headlights’ look on his face the entire set.

Next up was a balding, forty-something blues devotee. He had a poorly camouflaged beer gut and played a cheap nylon string guitar. His repertoire was exclusively blues standards; all of which he strummed unimaginatively in first position chords like a folk singer. Midnight Special, Stormy Monday etc…. He had a harmonica strapped around his neck which he played often and badly. I spent his entire set staring into my cup of coffee in solemn prayer that someone would shove that damn harmonica up his ass. The Basement Church.

I was up next. Even though there was nothing on the line I still got that nervous buzz in anticipation of performance. It was a good feeling. Deacon Jim fiddled with my mics while I checked my tuning. I noticed The Girl at the back of the club. She seemed to be looking at me attentively.

I was at the peak of my musical powers. I saw no reason to hold back and played my most challenging and risky songs. Deacon Jim would interject questions and comments between songs. I didn’t mind. He would say, “Good tune, yours?” Once or twice, buffoon Roy would start to blather during a song and Deacon Jim would shush him quietly and efficiently. The Girl’s dark silhouette sat ramrod straight during my whole set and never seemed to move a muscle.

I closed my set to polite, scattered applause. I sat down back at the table with Deacon Jim and Buffoon Roy. Another gent followed me and did an extremely serious set of originals. He strummed way too fast and hard, and sang way too loud. He grimaced, sweated profusely, and his face turned beet red. I guess he thought perspiration might mitigate a surfeit of inspiration. I looked in the direction of The Girl to find she and her guitar had vanished.

I should have left at this point, but something was keeping me there. Buffoon Roy pontificated and swigged coffee. He obviously fancied himself an armchair Socialist. As Roy continued his cartoon tirade I watched The Girl quietly and gracefully take the stage behind him and fuss with her hair and guitar while Deacon Jim attended to her microphones.

She was nervous, but game. She played that simple classical piece she was working on earlier. She was obviously taking lessons and practicing. She froze a couple of times, but took the piece to completion. The poorly lit stage added allure to her looks. The curtain of straight, brown, clean hair effectively cut her face in half. The half I could see was lightly made up with strong and pretty features. She surprised us by terminating her performance after one song. Deacon Jim gallantly asked her to sit at our table and play another. She said, “The only other tune I know is ‘Ten Thousand Miles’ and I barely know it.” Deacon Jim helpfully said, “I’m sure Dale could wing it on guitar”.

She sat down. She was sitting between Buffoon Roy and Deacon. She had a flinching posture when sitting at the table. I watched her hands on guitar while she ran through Ten Thousand Miles. It was a typical minimalist folk song. I picked up the chords and she sang the song in a sweet, pleasant – if slightly amateurish – falsetto. I caught her shooting a couple of glances at me. She was pretty, in her late twenties and had a smoking hot hippy body and brains. However, the curtain of hair over the right half of her face seemed to have a purpose. She was covering a scar. A made a point of not staring. She seemed shy and pensive enough.

Buffoon Roy was blathering about art and the disappearance of the friendly neighborhood bar. He complained how you couldn’t walk into a bar anymore for conversation and fellowship. He said every bar in town was either a strip bar or a gay bar. I silently wondered how he would know. At the first appropriate pause, I bent over to put away my guitar and made my excuses to go. The Girl immediately mentioned to Deacon Jim that it was getting late and she had to go to school in the morning. Deacon Jim said something unintelligible. Then, Buffoon Roy blustered, “well…I could take you home, it’s on the way!” Deacon Jim ignored Roy and turned to me and said, “You’re going back to The Valley right?” I said that I was.

“Fine, I’m sure Dale wouldn’t mind taking you home Gail”. I looked at Gail and told her I was fine with giving her a ride home. At that point she smiled and started putting her guitar away to leave. Buffoon Roy looked defeated. Deacon Jim took a self-satisfied slurp from his coffee mug, happy with his handiwork.

I offered to carry her guitar if she would negotiate the door. She walked on my right side as we approached the car. She stood well back when I opened the car door for her. All her movements seemed choreographed to shield her scar from my view. Fate even conspired to only show me her unblemished left side as she sat beside me in the passenger’s seat on the ride home.

We talked. She told me of her love for classical guitar. She also asked me what I was doing playing at the Basement Church. She told me I should be famous.

She lived in up in the foothills near The Church. I couldn’t tell if the neighborhood was ‘funky but chic’ or old and poor. Her apartment occupied the entire second floor of an older building. It probably started out life as a nice two story house that hard economics had morphed into a split level duplex.

Stand-up_comedy_-_Stage_-_cropShe invited me up for a cup of tea and I accepted without hesitation. I carried our guitars as she walked up the stairs ahead of me. This allowed me a discreet examination of her body from the rear and it was exquisite. Her slim, shapely body was housed in skin tight jeans and a leotard top. I doubt men stared at that scar on her face for long.

We entered the apartment and it immediately felt comfortable. I guessed it was built in the 40’s or early 50’s. The most noticeable feature was the hardwood floors that were common to the era. Gail had wisely decorated the apartment sparsely to maximize the esthetics of the wood. Clearly she was not rich and there was no money to waste on ephemera. However, this was the eighties, when it was still possible for those not rich to live in scruffy dignity.

She bounced around the apartment cheerfully and purposefully. I leaned in the kitchen door way while she prepared our tea. She kept her back to me while she performed her kitchen duties. She interrupted her task only to look at me over her left shoulder to reveal her pretty and alluring profile. The stove was a vintage 50’s model reminiscent of our old family stove that first educated me to the pain of fire.

She chatted about school and casually took my hand to show me the view from her apartment. The view was from an empty spare room at the back of the apartment. There were faux French double door windows that opened to a view of a thicket of trees and a small ravine. A very green, lush and (I assumed) dangerous piece of inner-city vegetation. We held hands. My arousal was immediate and sustained. She was proud of the humble but soulful niche she had carved for herself. Clearly she enjoyed my company. At the same time, she did not seem solicitous. She produced a joint and we smoked and chatted amiably and easily.

I finished my tea and it was time for me to go. She stood up and faced me square for the first time. I could see the scarring on the right side of her face was more severe than I thought. I moved closer and I could see through the curtain of hair that her cheekbone was missing; a sunken crater in its place. She was covering more than a scar. Her face was tragically disfigured. I did not hesitate. I put my hand gently on her shoulder and softly kissed her beautiful left cheek. Her body relaxed and her posture was welcoming. It was then I could see the sadness in her smile.

I thought about staying the night. I arrogantly assumed I could do so and her disfigurement did not repel me in the least. I know Gail would have been an amazing lover. However, I couldn’t love and leave her so cruelly. I was better than that. Or maybe I was just too shallow to shoulder the inevitable burden of stares and questions from family and friends. Maybe it was a little of both. Regardless, I made my excuses and left.

I knew I would never see or speak to her again. But, I thought about her every second of my drive back to the Valley. I solemnly prayed for the safety and happiness of The Girl from The Basement Church.

Morning Music Funnies # 7 – John Lydon on Roseanne

On October 7, 1999 John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) was scheduled to appear on The Roseanne Barr Show. The show agreed to allow Lydon and his crew to shoot film behind the scenes as part of the deal.

Upon arrival, Roseanne’s battalion of supercilious staffers sprung into action. One snarky comment from Lydon about a life size Roseanne cardboard cutout put her backstage posse on red alert. Suddenly, Lydon found himself in a swirling vortex of bitchy handlers bent on shutting down the cameras and bum-rushing the recalcitrant Punk icon out of the building. This is a wonderful document that illustrates  all that’s wrong with celebrity culture and all that’s right with Punk.

Dean Ford “Feel My Heartbeat” Album Review

 

Dean Ford Releases New Solo Album “Feel My Heartbeat”

By Dale Nickey

Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 5/30/16 – In 1969 a Scottish group named The Marmalade hit the charts in a big way with their Top Three ballad, “Reflections of My Life”. It was a melancholic look back at life, sung by a young singer/songwriter who had not yet lived it. The singer was Dean Ford (Born Thomas McAleese). The Marmalade made their splash and suffered the fate of many entrants into the 60’s sweepstakes. They had a couple of hits and faded into history, only to return sporadically on oldies radio, the odd soundtrack or the occasional K-Tel compilation. Continue reading

Now Be Thankful – David Swarbrick Remembered

Authored By Dale Nickey:

I am thankful. I saw David Swarbrick perform live. Twice. Both times with Martin Carthy. Both times at MaCabe’s Guitar Shop. And, it wasn’t until I heard about Swarb’s passing that the fog of years parted and I remembered that I actually spoke to the man. A brief encounter to be sure, but still I touched greatness.

 McCabe’s is an L.A. music institution that goes back decades. It sits in the ocean community of Santa Monica; a safe haven for expatriate Brits. While I’ve been alive there has always been a McCabe’s. It a woody, friendly music shop that specializes in acoustic exotica of all sorts. I bought my Mandocello there. Likewise, if you need paddle tuners for your Beach Uke, that’s where you go. They also host concerts. Their main musical affiliation is with folk and blues. They have a big room in the back with a nice stage where you can squeeze in 150-200 punters on folding chairs. I saw Elizabeth Cotton there. Jean Richie, Pentangle, June Tabor, John Renbourn and John Fahey, I even played there once myself in the folk duo Adie and Dale.

On gig night it’s usually packed out. Fresh baked cookies were offered in the front of the store. The restroom was small and you had to wait your turn. One night I bumped into Bert Jansch exiting as I was going in. I once banged shoulders with Yvonne Elliman whilst trying to navigate the crowded upstairs hallway. It was that kinda place. It might still be.

 Anyway, I went there at the dawn of the 90’s decade to watch the duo of Martin Carthy and David Swarbrick perform. I went with my friend Dominic, whom I was in a band with at the time. He was not familiar with either of the folk heavyweights we were about to see. But, because of my recommendation, he decided to check it out.

 It was an amazing show. Martin Carthy had a youthful, bouncy spirit and his chunky, finger styled guitar playing was as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar. Then there was Swarbrick, he played standing for the entire hour plus set. I remember there was a very tall gooseneck microphone stand that arched far above and pointed downward towards his fiddle. He burned for the entire set. He didn’t sing, he just played. Virtuosic and effortless. My companion leaned over and offered that “The Bloke” was a real monster. – the musician’s code word for an instrumentalist of uncommon skill and virtuosity. Swarb would be bequeathed the nickname “The Bloke” for the remainder of the evening and his exploits were discussed at length on the long drive home to The Valley.

I didn’t hear Swarbrick play a bum note the entire set, and he played a lot of notes. If he did hit one, his confidence and experience probably spun it to gold somehow. There he stood, taking the occasional drag from (what looked like) a home rolled cig. He had a bowl styled Beatle haircut. Swarb got the biggest laugh of the night when McCarthy told a joke and Swarb reacted a good half minute later when a helpful audience member in the front row translated it to the diminutive fiddler. Even then, Swarb’s ear problems were legend.

During this period, the duo of Carthy and Swarbrick cranked out two fine albums; “Life and Limb” (1990) and “Skin and Bone” (1992). It was upon their return to McCabe’s to tour the second album that I saw them perform again.

This time I went with a female companion (and future ex-wife). I was sad to find Swarb playing seated for the entire set. His bearing seemed less robust than the first gig I saw. However, the playing remained the same. Flowing, effortless and perfect. My English challenged companion had never heard of these two musicians. She whispered into my ear about “The Little Guy” and how “strong” and “very correct” his playing was.

After the set we loitered at the front of the store, everybody congregated and chatted. My date held court with Billy Connelly, Maddy Prior and Martin Carthy near the repairman’s counter. She was blissfully unaware of the celebrity she was confronting. Martin Carthy laughed broadly and was animated by a sweaty post-gig buzz, Connelly seemed bemused and Maddy looked a bit put out. Meanwhile, I made my way to a hunched, solitary figure sitting at a round wooden table near the album bin. It was Swarbrick. I’m always flummoxed and shy around musicians I admire. I sheepishly told him, “great set” and offered up a rare vinyl copy of “Fairport Convention Live at Sydney Opera House” for his signature. I seemed surprised at being presented with such an artifact. He perused it and quietly mused, “I wonder if I ever got paid for this one?” He then signed, and I slowly backed away and thanked him in the manner of an acolyte retreating from the master. I told it you it was a brief encounter. But we met. I’m so glad we did.

Fast forward to the new century. I was pleased when David Swarbrick accepted me as a Facebook friend. Oh, me and lot of people. I’m sure he would not have remembered my name, we only exchanged the odd thumbs up and the occasional pithy aside in the comments section. But I valued the connection none the less. It’s one of the few upsides to this digital media world that David Swarbrick could still remain present and connected with fans and friends the world over despite his restricted mobility. Think about all the musical giants of the previous century who lived out their winter years with only a rotary phone and a black and white television as their links to the outside world. Forgotten and sad.

I’m at that age now. I’m surrounded by so many friendly ghosts and people preparing for the great transition. I’ve been lucky so far but I am nervously clutching my ticket number dreading my turn to be called. Swarb did alright in the life sweepstakes. He made it to 75 with loads of memories, accomplishments and a loving family at the end. He laughed in the face of death twice. He was a one-off. It seems like this year more than any other, the great upward migration has begun. RIP Swarb.

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David Swarbrick Dead at 75

 

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News has just come in to The Muse Patrol that Folk-Rock pioneer David Swarbrick died on June 3. He was 75.

Swarbrick has courageously beat back illness and infirmity for decades. He will always be remembered as a key member of the greatest Folk Rock ensemble in the history of British Music, Fairport Convention. The line up of Swarbrick, Sandy Denny, Richard Thompson, Dave Mattacks, Simon Nicol and Ashley Hutchings was a virtual all star band dedicated to giving British traditional music its groove back during a time in the late 60’s when The Band was similarly reviving interest in American roots music on this side of the pond.

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David LaFlamme was America’s electric violin pioneer during the late sixties. In Britain, it was David Swarbrick.  ‘Swarb’ was already folk royalty in Britain when the call came to join Fairport Convention in their desperate attempt to retool and recover after a road accident that claimed the life of drummer Martin Lamble. Swarbrick took the gig just in time to feature on the band’s 1969 masterpiece, “Liege And Lief”. Suffering and conquering the agonies of stone-age electric violin technology, Swarbrick found his inner rocker and became a star attraction in the band. He even multi-tasked as Fairport’s lead singer after the departure of Sandy Denny. Eventually, ear problems and other health issues forced his retirement from the band and active touring. He’s cheated death twice. Once after a premature obituary was published in the “The Daily Telegraph” in 1999; and again after a risky, but successful double lung transplant in 2004. 

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For a brief time during the late sixties and early seventies, British Folk-Rock threatened to make a big splash on both sides of the Atlantic. It was old music played by young guns at high volume. This outdoor performance from 1971 is a period curio that captures the genre and Swarbrick at their peak.  This performance could also well be the precise time and place where the spirit of the sixties died. Now Swarbrick has also passed. British music will be forever poorer in his absence.

 

Jandek releases new CD – Dublin Friday

Authored by Dale Nickey:

More Jandek ?  >>> Houston ThursBrussels Sat / St. Louis Fri

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JANDEK – Dublin Friday (CD)

Corwood Industries (0820)

 

Word salad surgery…

Corwood Industries has just released Dublin Friday – a live acoustic set of guitar/vocal pieces, I have given up trying to read logic into Jandek’s release schedule. This performance dates back to June 11, 2008. The venue is The Douglas Hyde Gallery in Dublin Ireland. As of late, Corwood’s releases tend to hopscotch back and forth in time without any explanation or pattern.

Dublin Friday seems a companion work to Houston Saturday (2011), which employed the same solo acoustic format. Indeed, Corwood included a DVD version of the Houston performance (along with Dublin Friday) in its latest care package to this reviewer, so it’s clear they see the linkage as well. However, where Houston Saturday (2011) was a song cycle totally in thrall to lust, love and human connection, Dublin Friday is totally absent any sentimentality, romance or emotion. If it were a book, I would describe it as an eight chapter novella set in a Kafkaesque parallel universe of the mind. Or perhaps, Finnegan’s Wake on Ambien.

On Dublin Friday, It’s tough to gauge how much of the lyric content is composed or extemporized. It’s apparent The Representative has stockpile of phrases and images preloaded – while at the same time – his delivery suggests a cut and paste methodology. Evocative phrases are delivered in random order with no consideration to narrative. There are times you can hear Jandek trying to stay a step ahead of himself, reshuffling his mental deck on the fly. The songs on Dublin Friday (as do many of Jandek’s compositions) occupy the nether region between automatic writing and conventional song craft. At this performance, Jandek’s internal clock set set between seven and nine minutes per piece. Only Part Seven deviates from this time frame, coming in at 5:41.

The Representative of Corwood Industries has dispensed with song titles for this release. Instead, we get eight selections titled “Part One”, “Part Two”…etc. However, the eight selections scan like segmented parts of a conceptual whole.

That being said, Dublin Friday is a strong and involving set. Jandek ‘the man’ keeps reviewers at arms distance, so the intent and motivation behind this set of non-stop, non-sequiturs will forever be open to conjecture.

 

What follows is a track-by-track analysis of the songs found on Dublin Friday:

Part One – A protracted and meandering guitar introduction paints a desolate musical landscape. What follows is a clutch of lyric snippets that stop and start maddeningly. Short unfinished phrases cut and pasted together. Example: “You see the general terms basking in the gentle hues. To make things clear, he said nothing.”

Part Two – A delicate, pin-prick guitar intro precedes more florid word play. Part Two describes abandoned journeys and thoughts inadequately expressed. Jandek seems trapped in some kind of emotional stasis. The Reps guitar work is active and possesses a harmonic logic that reveals itself only to those willing to invest in repeated listens. Sample lyric: “He said nothing enthralled by demeanor, ravished by the movement of hands…”

Part Three – This selection promises something more in the realm of a structured narrative. But, that’s just a come-on. Musically; The Rep is exploring richer, darker tones than he did in Part Two. However, no threads are maintained. Example: “Tell me I’m not mistaken by the holocaust of vision, the break-up of a sentence. It’s only that…I mean. It’s all so obvious.” Oh, is it?

Part Four – Some recognizable harmonic motifs threaten to emerge throughout this piece but are ultimately stillborn. After some introductory improvisation, the artist finally intones, “The cacophony of gestures, flew about like secret symbols, or martial arts chopping phrases, into bits of a conundrum.” The guitar work throughout Dublin Friday is oddly appealing and involving. Later in the piece, The Representative expresses his desire for a ‘box of surprises’. The Representative demonstrates a command of subtle dynamics throughout the piece. Nice ritard ending.

Part Five – Part Five starts off with some clacky single string work, Jandek continues to toss his existential word salad… “Imbued with his blustery bellow, and his promenade of gestures like a floating benevolent cloud that captures your imagination when you’ve nothing to do.” A fairly symmetrical song structure ultimately reveals itself as the vocal verses alternate with guitar breaks that further explores the wild, interval leaps in the songs intro. So far each piece seems to have its own musical identity. However lyrically, entropy and confusion still reign supreme; or to quote The Representative, “To interrupt this madness would be catastrophic”.

Part Six – At this juncture, Jandek’s limited harmonic palette begins to reveal itself. However, despite the musical groping and meandering, interesting motifs continue poke their head out into the light, then wither and recede just as quickly as they came. Instrumentally, this piece less busy and employs descending lines in lieu of the nihilistic noodling of the previous piece. Again, the landscape is strewn with faceless people, saying nothing and revealing nothing. The narrator’s use of evocative phraseology only succeeds in plunging the listener further into the dark.

Part Seven – A guitar intro mines the lower registers of the instrument. “You simply must understand. Let’s begin where it all started. All is agreed. I will not repeat. The conviction pierced fleshly barriers of sound.” Elsewhere: “He said nothing, and they acted like he was saving the world”. As with all the selections on this CD, the song’s conclusion is met with pregnant silence followed by sustained, reverential applause.

Part Eight – On this, the final song, Jandek’s amps up the adrenaline, strums a little harder and gets a tad more bellicose. Unidentified people are saying nothing. In fact, this entire eight part odyssey could well be summarized by the phrase. “My heart is shaken by this witness, he said nothing.”

Upon first hearing, Dublin Friday exhibits the familiar traits that have denied Jandek a mass audience for decades. The cold, brackish exterior will forever scare off the casual listener.

It makes sense that music journalists are the most fervent ambassadors of his work. We are forced to pro-actively listen to this music as part of our job, and it’s in these requisite, repeat listens that Jandek music begins to reveal its layers. Despite first impressions, this is not throwaway bullshit. Neither is it pop craft. It’s something different; and I’m relieved to say, it’s as honest and purposeful as any music currently being created. We can come along for the ride or not. Jandek will never thank you for coming. He plays, and we either show up or stay home. The Representative is one of the few musical artists who understands art shouldn’t give a shit and it doesn’t apologize. The muse just issues forth its nectar or poison from its pustule or pod when it no longer can be contained. A work such as Dublin Friday allows us to witness the act of creation with without filters. It’s not entertainment. It’s pure spectacle.