= August 2009 =
|Six Organs of Admittance
|Jack Rose & The Black Twig Pickers
|Modesty Blaise comp
|The Gray Field Recordings
|Language of Light / Cortez split
(CD on Drag City)
There’s a harrowing beauty about Ben Chasny’s music which transcends any format, media or musical style he lends himself to: you can sense the passion in his playing and almost feel the poetical intensity of his muse wrapping itself around you like a wraith. It was there when we first heard him, living and playing alone amongst the Giant Redwoods of the Pacific Northwest; it shone through his early releases on cassette, acetate, vinyl and eventually on CD; and it’s evident on his contributions to Comets on Fire, Current 93 and other fine bands from across the Terraverse.
Primarily though, of course, it’s evident in his own band Six Organs of Admittance. The production values may gradually have been stepped up from release to release since he signed to Drag City (debuting with ‘School of the Flower’ in 2005, and culminating to date in 2007’s ‘Shelter From the Ash’), but never to such an extent that the magical essence which is the grain of the man has been buried completely in layers of gloss.
And so to ‘Luminous Night’, the latest release by Six Organs and the newest from Drag City. Recorded and produced by Randall Dunn (Sun City Girls) at Aleph Studios in Seattle, the album features as well as Mr. Dunn on keyboards and electronics accompaniment by Matt Chamberlain on drums, Eyvind Kang on viola and Hans Tueber on alto flute, together expanding and amplifying the signature sound of Ben Chasny’s guitar. The production is sharper than ever before, bathing every note in a spotlight of unprecedented clarity – and yet somehow this is a retrospective release, a jigsaw of recognisable parts made up from elements of all that’s great about Ben’s music.
Old fans will smile and nod knowingly at such sublime, instantly recognisable compositions as the guitar-rich ‘The Ballad of Charley Harper’, the brilliant ‘Ursa Minor’, a classic Six Organs sound if ever there was one, with achingly personal lyrics “love can’t keep death at bay / good people dying everywhere” , the vibrant drone of ‘Cover Your Wounds With the Sky’, the hypnotic tabla of ‘Bar-Nasha’ which references the Aramaic name of Christ in a rising/falling raga featuring hand clapped percussion and flute, or the opening Greek tragedy ‘Acteaon’s Fall (Against the Hounds)’, a signature instrumental, this time based around the unfortunate tale of Actaeon, turned into a stag by an angry goddess Artemis after he peeked at her bathing in woods, and torn apart by his own pack of hunting hounds (represented by martial drumming) before the question was adequately answered whether the lovely Artemis was just pissed off with him or in the mood for a bit of bestiality.
Those less familiar with Six Organs’ history will be drawn in by ‘Anesthesia’ meanwhile, a vocally powerful piece led by Ben which is eerily redolent of his time spent with Current 93; the middle-eastern vibe of ‘River of Heaven’ (a personal favourite of mine), and the painfully negative closer ‘Enemies Before the Light’ which finds Ben twisting the tail of anyone who tries to place him in the “freak folk” bag with an almost formless, hypnotic death drone.
I have no hesitation in declaring ‘Luminous Night’ a masterpiece – very much an album of its time, it’s one which I and many more besides will be returning to again and again. (Phil McMullen)
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(CD on the Beautiful Happiness label)
This new release on 'Beautiful Happiness' will appeal to lovers of traditional American folk, as a slew of banjo and fiddle-infused songs whizz by. The opening standard 'Little Sadie' begins the album as the band mean to go on, as banjo and harmonica joust with drawled vocals singing jail-time lyrics. Elsewhere other standards clash with Rose & Family songs - bluegrass and country fans will lap this up (the band tour frequently, and this shows in the surety and passion of the playing and singing). The feel is upbeat and bouncy. 'Soft Steel Piston' features clattering percussion and Rose’s slide guitar picking, while 'Ride Old Buck' drags the listener into some pretty heavy fiddle playing, with muted banjo and harmonica accompaniment; half sung, half yelled vocals are almost drowned by the raucous music-making - in the best possible way. Yee-haw! The comparatively sombre 'Special Rider' has more great glissando fiddle playing and bluegrass guitar, while the album closer 'Goodbye Booze' has a slow rhythm and bittersweet lyrics, delivered in appropriately drink-sodden style. (Steve Palmer)
(Phil adds: We haven't been entrusted with a cover for this release - presumably because we are assumed guilty before even being charged, as the type of crook who sells promotional review copies on eBay - so I'm afraid we can't show you the cover to look out for in the shops. However, rest assured this is a tremendous album; and no less remarkable for the reworking of 'Bright Sunny South' on here which Jack Rose and Mike Gangloff - the principles of JR & TTP - previously recorded together on Pelt's 1991 classic double album, 'Ayahuasca'
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(Nine EP set)
From The Years of Ashes EP
Oil From The Hands of The Empire EP
Clandestine Forest Lore EP
Gorge Music For Lost Hikers EP
Moon Mountains Cast Sun Shadows EP
The Waters of Dead Rivers EP
Complete from The Benefit EP
Reaping The Bounty EP
Smoke Signals For Our Nations EP
(Digital download only from www.potholeskinny.com)
The Old Bergen Vault gathers together assorted uber-stoned sundries (live, rare, and unreleased) from New Jersey’s finest wyrdfolkies. Megaton acid drops like “Clandestine Forest Lore”’s 22-minute ‘Skin of The Temple’ and Kamiellistat Ytevat-styled furniture movers like “Oil From The Hands of The Empire”’s ‘Whispers The Beginning’ jockey for supremacy with more structured concoctions like the mandolin, tin-whistle, and tabla stomp of the fairy dancing ‘Stoking The Fires on Sorrow Mountain’ (“From The Years of Ashes”) or the country mosey of “Gorge Music for Lovers”’ ‘Sweet August.’ A gentle acoustic guitar flutters around tinkling bells on the navelgazing, Donovanesque ‘In Observance of Old Scars’ and there’s a swirling, Eastern vibe to ‘He Came From The Clouds’ that ends “Ashes” back where “He” came from!
‘The Whaler’ opens “Gorge Music for Lovers” with the delicatest of acoustic guitar ruminations, as if someone recorded the sound of honey trickling across the strings, and ‘Descending Deeds’ closes the EP with eerie sci-fi stringbending haunting ten minutes of more acoustic, walk-in-the-forest musings.
‘Racing The Chariots Over Babylon’ (from “Moon Mountains Cast Sun Shadows”) offers a glimpse into the band’s live program (recorded at New Jersey’s WFMU, it was originally released with Dream Magazine #4); it slowly mounts a daring rescue of your weary mind from the drudgery of everyday “folk music” and is not unlike some of the thousand yard stares that Tanakh elicit with their similarly executed dreamscapes. If you enjoyed PG Six’s set at Terrastock VI in Providence, this is right up the pink side of your drainpipe. I’d also like to hear “Moon…”’s ‘Spelunking with The Devil’ in a Tarentino or Rodriguez film – it’s a mean, slow, dirty slide down a slippery slope to hell with nothing but sticky BBQ sauce and a rack of ribs to break your fall. If you prefer your live jams more open-ended, try “Reaping The Bounty”’s 22-minute statement of purpose, ‘Mission of The Tribes.’ I don’t think the crowd at NYC’s Pianos has yet recovered from this Jodorowsky-induced nightmare of equal parts sushi Western, New Year’s Eve at Times Square, Chinese fire drill, and The Conet Project. Industrialised souls raised on steady diets of Faust, Nine Inch Nails, and Einsturzende Neubauten will wet their undies, but I think this is the sort of stuff that the Terrastock crowd passes out to on their lunch breaks.
I don’t know why the band weren’t invited to perform ‘Washington Breakdown’ at Pete Seeger’s 90th. Maybe the invitation got lost in the mail, but surely their hoedown take could’ve breathed some life into that stodgy, reverential backslapping contest. I also dug the ZZ Top-meets Duane Eddy twang of ‘Cypress Voodoo Waltz’ (“Oil From The Hands of The Empire”), the hauntingly gorgeous guitar duet, ‘Ballad of Mary Cecilla Rogers’ and the stark staring, loner/stoner madness of the Julia Vorontsova-assisted ‘Wicked Tribes Will Rise’ (both from “Smoke Signals For Our Nations”). ‘From The Sky Fell Moon Passengers’ (“The Waters of Dead Rivers”) is exactly as engagingly surreal and headswirling as you would expect, the stunning, goosepimpled beauty of ‘Harnessed in The Catacombs’ gets another home, in case you missed the Ptolemaic Terrascope #34 freebie, and there’s even a little bluesy, slide guitar shuffle, ‘Playing Dark River Blues’ if you’re looking for a little variety from the folkier stuff. These last three, along with a sinewy, Neil Young & Crazy Horse-styled ‘Gasoline Dry,’ recorded live at Jersey City’s Waterbug Motel before a very intimate audience – you can practically hear them breathing through the stage mics – give a bit of a tip to “The Waters of Dead Rivers” as my personal favorite (and who could argue with their well-wishing adieu, “Thank you, have a good trip!”) with “Ashes” and “Moon Mountains” close runners up), but there’s bound to be something to satisfy your mind within these nine offerings, be it their more traditional acoustic folk strums, their avant garde, head scratching weirdness, or the just plain skin melting beauty of their shimmering guitar glissandos. (NOTE: The band have announced that they will no longer release material via the CD medium, but you can order all nine of the EPs that make up this archival release directly from them at their special “Pay Your Price” offer) (Jeff Penczak)
(CD from www.dragcity.com)
Having been released in April, it has taken a while for this wonderful album to filter into my brain and reach the top of the reviews pile. Deceptively simple on first listen, further plays reveal a depth and maturity that runs throughout the eight tracks, a timeless beauty that creeps into your soul.
Album opener “The Flyting of Grief and Joy”, has a sympathetic arrangement and melancholy mood that is topped off with the gorgeous voice of Roberts himself, creating a traditional folk tale for modern times, pushing the genre forward whilst retaining its roots. On “You Muses Assist” (as well as several other tunes), the addition of drums and bass gives the song a mellow folk-rock feel, sounding similar to early Steeleye Span, the instrumental interplay creating melodies that dance through the air with grace and ease.
Managing to sound like several traditional tunes whilst retaining its own identity, “So Bored Was I” has a lyrical sharpness that belies the happiness of the melodies, the excellent playing again complimenting the musicians involved. With a galloping rhythm, “Unyoked Oxen Turn” is a strange tale of men looking for their legs, a song that will put a smile on your face as you try to decipher its meaning. On the other side of the coin, “Book of Doves” radiates sadness, the haunting guitar hiding a stillness that lies deep within, the tune slowly building the tension, the whole track enveloped in the ghost of the Incredible String Band, at least in the way it ebbs and flows. A similar feel is prevalent on “Ned Ludd’s Rant” another melancholy tune, awash with longing, that features some sympathetic drumming that brings the tune alive.
Featuring some free-flowing guitar playing, “Hazel Forks” would be an album highlight, except for the fact that the whole album is a highlight, whilst “Under No Enchantment (Except My Own)” closes the album beautifully, an aching love song that drifts like clouds, all you have to do is listen and dream.
Brilliant from start to finish, all I can say is go and score a copy. (Simon Lewis)
(CD from Past & Present)
Subtitled ‘Cheesy Pop For The Connoisseur,’ Past & Present’s latest compilation splits its 14 tracks between Northern Soul dancefloor stompers and “straight-up freakbeat pounders,” so there’s sure to be something for mods and rockers of all tastes. No longer shy about hiding their sources, the notes proclaim that “all tracks are taken from the original vinyl.” Copyright infringement be damned, these are tracks that gotta be heard, and P&P are out to save you the hundreds of dollars/pounds that it would cost to acquire these gems on the collectors’ market. Plus, there’re informative liner notes that P&P are known for which give all the background info you could hope to obtain outside of a trawl through Vernon Joynson’s equally expensive tome, The Tapestry of Delights! The set opens with Aretha’s little sister, Erma, and her 1963 B-side, ‘I Don’t Want No Mama’s Boy, a feminist floorfiller that’s years ahead of its time. Equally up to the task as one of the great blues/soul shouters, Varetta Dillard’s ‘That’s Why I Cry’ has more than a few hints of ‘Fever’ running throughout, but there’s a great sax break that makes it rise above the standard copycat fare of the day (1957).
Malcolm Hayes’ ‘Searchin’ For My Baby’ is another classic Northern Soul stormer, with a catchy beat, fine female backing vox and Hayes’ smooth, Lee Dorsey-styled crooning – I can hear a little ‘Ya Ya’ lurking within! Over the years, Esquerita has become legendary for his wild piano style and Eraserhead pompadour, but Little Richard adapted his whole career from Eskew Reeder, Jr. and gained all the fame. Mick Jones immortalised him on Big Audio Dynamite’s Tighten Up Volume ’88, released a few years after Esquerita died from AIDS in Harlem. ‘Undivided Love’ is a fitting tribute to his genius.
It’s clear that Philly soul was at the heart of Azie Mortimer’s ‘Put Yourself in My Place,’ released on the Philly-based Swan imprint in 1963, and Chris Farlowe’s debut single with The Thunderbirds, ‘Air Travel’ pointed at great things to come, despite the fact that it flopped and he didn’t really hit his stride until Andrew Loog Oldham signed him to his Immediate imprint. ‘Air Travel’ could easily have passed for a Sam Cooke b-side, proving once and for all that Farlowe, even at this early juncture of his career, was one of the greatest blue-eyed soul singers
Reaching out to the international community, South African Howard Carpendale’s ‘Du Hast Mich' (Electrola, 1970) is a sexy, bottom-heavy psych firebolt with weird fuzz guitar solos and a distinct Traffic/Spencer Davis-meets-Deep Purple groove (listen for ‘I’m A Man’ references throughout), while the organ-drippin’ wah-wah wonder, ‘Osiewcsyna I Pejsas’ from Poland’s Trubadurzy is the find of the year. Like Vincent Crane on a mission, this would make an excellent companion to Arthur Brown’s ‘Fire,’ although it’s actually about 10 times more insane. I’ve got to find the rest of their ’66-’68 output! England’s Snappers offer up the pleasant pop-psych of ‘Upside Down Inside Out,’ which sounds like a titular cross between The Yardbirds' ‘Over Under Sideways Down’ and Josie & The Pussycats’ ‘Inside Outside Upside Down,’ but, musically, falls closer to the bubblegummy side of life. Plastic Penny wrap up with an opening riff not too far distanced from ‘Time of The Season’ on the awkwardly titled ‘Your Way To Tell Me To Go,’ which ultimately sounds a lot like The Who covering The Zombies. Another winner from the Past & Present stables. I can hardly wait for No. 2! (Jeff Penczak)
(LP from Al Simones)
I was recently bemoaning, over a few beers with a friend (as you do), the lack of new releases in recent years which successfully combine cosmic guitar playing and a DIY ethic which goes bravely against the commercial grain. What, I asked, was going to populate the rare and collectable used record catalogues of future years? The same old albums we’ve all become familiar with by name if not by actual ownership (I mean, we all know ‘Shades of the Midnight Sun’ by Jesse Harper is allegedly amazing, because we’ve read about it so often, but how many of us have actually heard it?), and what – and this was the crux of my argument – would represent the years 2006, 7, 8, 9 and beyond on those lists in the future? I also in a drunken moment stated that if I were to start up another magazine today it would be devoted strictly and absolutely to the genuine underground, rather than anything masquerading as such, i.e. D.I.Y. releases (both on LP and CD, since obviously one has to move with the times to a certain extent), completely ignoring anything released by a third party, although maybe side projects by “real” bands could be included. I should perhaps add that on reflection in the cold, sober light of dawn I have no intention of doing anything as mad as starting another magazine, and couldn’t begin to afford to in any case. It’s a lovely idea though....
Anyway, had I waited a few more days I would have heard an album which at one and the same time represented my argument exactly and blew all of those drunken gripes clean out of the water. Limited to 285 numbered copies (although mine is marked “Promo #4” so it could be there’s 15 or so additional promotional copies out there as well) and housed in a thick card sleeve with hand-drawn art and a photo montage on the reverse - so basically everything is in place just as it should be and the yang has immediately balanced the ying before even a note is played - the liner notes state up-front that “This album was recorded for the joy and love of music as an art, and was not entended [sic] or formulated for mass appeal”. Perfect. Absolutely bloody perfect.
And the music’s not half bad either. If you’re familiar with any of Simones’ previous psychedelic acid-rock trips ‘Corridor of Dreams’ (1992), ‘Enchanted Forest’ (1994) and ‘Balloon Ride’ (1998) then you’ll know what to expect – and this latest release will in no way disappoint. And if you’re not familiar with them, but dig the work of the Bevis Frond, Outskirts of Infinity, Sundial and Ethereal Counterbalance (whose lead guy Rod Goodway Andy Conrad sounds oddly similar to when singing) then once again, ‘From The Electric Cornfield’ should fit the requirement and scratch the itch rather perfectly.
The titles give it away immediately. We’re taking psychedelic acid rock, dude. ‘Welcome to the Astral Plane’, ‘The Adventures of Asdmodious Forsythia’, ‘Mars (Reprise)’, ‘Ahura Mazda’ and ‘Touch the Sky’ were all recorded live at home in Ohio, USA, basically jam sessions involving Al Simones (obviously) with drummer Kevin Chatham, bassis Andy Conrad and rhythm guitarist Rich Karlis. There’s a distinct middle-eastern vibe to ‘Welcome...’ which opens the album, but the real toe-curling moment is the amped-up guitar solo mid-way through the number. It’s breathtaking. The song takes up around half the side, so there’s plenty of it to get your teeth into. ‘The Adventures...’ follows on seamlessly, and there’s a change of pace with the song that follows it, the slowed-down introspective ‘Kaleidoscope Girl’, which is one of six songs on the album recorded solo by Al Simones himself, the others being ‘Mr Ed’s Lullaby’, ‘Velvet Daydream’, ‘October Cherries’, ‘Kili Kili Power’ and ‘Rubber Gazebo’, each very much in the Bevis Frond bedroom recordings style, with the possible exception of ‘Rubber Gazebo’ which sounds uncannily like Randy California jamming on a Merrell Fankhauser LP. Great stuff.
You can contact Al Simones direct at email@example.com for details of costs and availability and I earnestly suggest you do – copies of this album are going to be extremely sought-after. Nothing, not even offers of vast sums of money, will prise my copy from my clutching mitts. (Phil McMullen)
and Magazine (Sunbeam)
Caroline Hester had already released a half dozen folk albums by the time she added a trio of permanent backing musicians to give her material a little more muscle, resulting in these two pop-psych albums for Metromedia in 1969. ‘Magic Man’ sets her m.o. with it’s opening lyric, “I can send you flying through a trip in time…” and the appealing psychedelic backing throughout is typical of the day. Steve Wolfe bends some mean strings on ‘Be Your Baby,’ Hester’s second husband, Dave Blume (Richard Fariña was her first!) adds jazzy piano to ‘Hey Jay,’ and Hester retains her ties to her roots with high-pitched wailings on trad fave ‘East Virginia’ and the politically charged duo, ‘Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream’ and ‘Half The World.’ In other words, a nice variety of styles adding up to an easy listening, California-styled, sunshine folk-psych album.
Changes were afoot for the second album: Clyde Lucas appears on the sleeve, apparently replacing drummer Skeeter Camera, who’s still credited on the sessions, and Dave Mauney joins on vibes, but the material is almost interchangeable with the debut. Wolfe’s guitar still screams on tracks like ‘Rise Like Phoenix’ and a blistering ‘St. James Infirmary,’ and producer/keyboardist Blume paints some exquisite backdrops on organ and melodica. Hester’s voice is not as grating – the high-pitched screech has settled into a mellow warble and the album features more softer tracks like ‘Dedicated,’ ‘Beadmaker,’ and ‘Just Follow Me,’ although a flat and ultimately superfluous ‘Dock of The Bay’ drags the album down a bit.
Blume, Hester’s husband of nearly 40 years, passed away in 2006, but the 72-year old folkie continues to perform and record with her daughters and a new folk album is apparently ready for the light of day. (Jeff Penczak)
Specialising in drone/experimental music, these three releases can only enhance the reputation of a label whose past work set a high standard which is easily maintained here.
Featuring the musical talents of Frank Suchomel and David Bymer, the latest album from Inalonelyplace, is a collection of haunting and delicate drones and ambient melodies that drift and envelope, relaxing and meditative at the same time.
After the magnificent opener “Across the Wasteland”, an eight minute bathe in aural sunshine, A gently swaying guitar heralds in “Fleeting and Back Again” another relaxing piece that sounds wonderful flowing across a sunlit garden. Deeper in texture, the spacious sounds of “Lament Fills The Divide” take the listener far away from the mundane, the rippling melodies only adding to the sense of wonder. Opening with picked guitar and some electronic sequences, “The Architect has built his House” is one of those slowly dissolving pieces, the notes fading into a slowly rising drone that invigorates like a good stretch in the morning. To end, “Final Transmission Fragment” is a scratchy piece of electronic ambience that slowly fades into nothing, the perfect finish for the album.
Basically the creation of R.Loftiss, the music of The Gray Field Recordings is both unsettling and deeply moving, moments of beauty and clarity swiftly followed by dense fog and decay. Using slow, distorted , reverbed guitar and some haunting drone infested violin playing, the songs are ghostly laments the seem to be played in monochrome, the fragile voice only adding to the desolate feel. Listening to the title track, one is immediately drawn in to this closed and intimate world, as if stepping into a dream, the gracefulness cloaked in sadness.
After the soft chimes and experimental buzz of “Milky White”, there is a flash of hope in the poetry of “In Milky Twilight”, the crackles and rumbling of the backing adding ambience and power to the words. Following a similar path, the unsettling power of “Tiny Music” is another highlight, the lyrics again drawing you in with uneasy fascination, whilst the gorgeous refrain of “From Sheneland” tears at the heart, the emotion turned up by aching violin to almost unbearable levels.
Formed in 2008, Language of Light is a collaboration between R.Loftiss and Frank Suchomel, the project managing to capture a balance between the two musicians, creating a sense of light and fragility on “Double Helixes Up To Heaven”, their contribution to the split 12”. Split into three parts, but in reality one long track, the music floats lazily like a bee moving from flower to flower, gentle guitar washed with hazy drone and electronic flourishes, the delicate textures filling the room with ease.
Created using guitar and effects, the music of Robert Cortez is timeless and magical, the drone of “White Tiger Phantoms” having stillness at its centre, the sound of a wind-less day beside a lake, the surface of the water barely moving, creating a glassy sheen in the afternoon sun. This is the first thing I have heard by Cortez and on this evidence I am keen to find out more, as you should, with this split release being the perfect place to start. (Simon Lewis)
( CDR from Kiiltomatolyhty )
Given that this album was recorded at various times during wanders around the British Isles, holed up in a cabin in Northern Finland and time spent contemplating the Himalayas, this is an astonishingly coherent and competent collection of folk improvisations and free-form drones from Finnish multi-instrumentalist Joonatan Elokuu, ably assisted on vocals here and there by his wife Helena Halla, most tellingly on the gorgeous intro ‘Adieu to Old Finland’ (based, needless to say, on the traditional song ‘Adieu to Old England’ rendered immortal by Shirley Collins – as an aside, the song was collected originally by Cecil Sharp during the 1950s in Westhay, Somerset which also happens to be my own place of birth – hardly surprising then that the song has a particular resonance for me!). What marks this as unique, special and very, very memorable though is the way the song evolves: from the traditional folksong intro, Joonatan then pulls the listener headlong into the world of Six Organs of Admittance, with lush psychedelic drones fronted by electric stringed instrumentation (banjo, guitar, God knows what).
The influences throughout are as varied as the paths trodden in the making of the album. ‘As Fair as Gilead’ which closes the album is a C.O.B. cover, here stretched and pulled into an eleven minute epic worthy of the United Bible Studies (yes, it’s that good). There’s two songs sung, fittingly, in Finnish, entitled ‘Purjehduslaulu’ and ‘Solmu Loputtomalla Langalla’ – it’s a beautiful language which, like Welsh, reads like it must be unpronounceable and yet somehow lends itself exquisitely to being sung. ‘The Calling of Crows Beckons Us Home’ is distilled Davey Graham, with Donovan-esque vocals and busily plucked acoustic backing. There’s more Donovan with a cover of his ‘The Little White Road’. ‘A Hushed Lullaby’ continues the sterling work begun on the ending to ‘Adieu to Old Finland’, with the sound of lapping water serving as a backdrop before launching into a song which stylistically nods towards the Kitchen Cynics in delivery.
Altogether this album is a stone-cold beauty which is deserving of being more widely heard. Definitely an artist to follow, and you can be sure we here at the Terrascope will be keeping a weather eye open for more in a similar vein... (Phil McMullen)