=  DECEMBER 2008  =

Quick Links

  Wolf People

Written by:

Pyschedelica 3 comp
  She's a Heartbreaker comp

Phil McMullen

Kelli Ali

Jeff Penczak

The Owl Service

Simon Lewis

Mr Pine

Nigel Cross

Cabinet of Natural Curiosities
  Six Organs of Admittance
  Bruce Barthol



(self-released CDEP)


This is one of those once a year debuts that spin your head around and put a smile on your chops, at one and the same time restoring your faith in music and renewing hope for the future of psychedelic rock. Last year Wooden Shjips did it for me; this year it’s Wolf People.


The core of this young band hail from London, and consist of Jack Sharp on guitar and vocals, Joe Hollick on Guitar, Daniel Davies on bass, Tom Watt on drums and Ross Harris on flute. Yes, flute. “The Devil’s Instrument” as revered Terrascope scribe Steve Pescott once memorably branded it, having been on the receiving end of early exposure through some singularly awful sub-Jethro Tull progressive rock in the early-mid 70s, which he has never fully recovered from.


Nevertheless, the instrument has been salvaged somewhat in recent years by its adoption in a non-cheesy psychedelic sense by Bardo Pond, and in Wolf People’s hands its use embellishes the ethereal vocal/acid-drenched guitar interplay in a truly stellar way. This is post-psych as it was always meant to sound.


This self-released EP features sides from three singles, two released on Battered Ornaments Records (a nod towards Pete Brown there, perhaps?) in 2006 and 7 and one from an April 2008 tour, all of them now well and truly sold out. The opening ‘Caratacas’ (from the tour EP) features superbly crafted slide and lead guitar interplay the likes of which has rarely been heard since the Man band released their grande finale ‘Alls Well that Ends Well’, recorded live in the Roundhouse in 1976.


‘Cotton Strands’ is pure Merrell Fankhauser's Mu, with Jeff Cotton on guitar. The song comes billowing out of your speakers with the most overtly west-coast psych feel of all, the harmony singing and twanging guitars transporting you straight to the Golden Gate, with no passing Go and no collecting $200 for your troubles. The real stand-out for me though, and the pinnacle of the band’s achievements to date, is undoubtedly the B side of that selfsame single, ‘Storm Cloud’ – truly extraordinary stuff when you consider this is beaming out from 21st Century London ; an absolute gemstone of gorgeous acid guitar harmony vocal interplay. Imagine Mad River’s lead guitarist David Robinson jamming with Country Joe and the Fish and you won’t go far wrong!


The final two songs (and the earliest on here) are ‘October Fires’ and ‘Black Water’, both of which owe more than a nod of acknowledgment to innumerable lost hours spent listening appreciatively to the mighty ‘The Spotlight Kid’. Let’s face it, anyone who can lay down a Beefheartian stomp rhythm, sing gorgeous harmonies worthy of Moby Grape over the top and then have the audacity to play a superbly crafted backwards guitar solo, as Wolf People do on the closing ‘Black Water’, deserve your support. Don’t miss out on this: you’ll only end up kicking yourselves!  (Phil McMullen)


Wolf People CDEP inc. UK postage £5.00, overseas £6.00 from www.myspace.com/wolfpeople






    Continuing their quest to bring you the finest modern psychedelia available, Northern Star return with the third in their series of compilations highlighting the wide ranging artistes on their roster. Over 2 ½ hours in length and with 36 bands involved there is an incredible amount of good music to be found on this package, making it an almost essential purchase for those wishing to hear some of the prime movers on the new psychedelic frontier. Throughout, shades of The Byrds, Spacemen Three, The Church, Rain Parade, Velvet Underground and The Soft Boys can be heard, but every scene has its reference points and these are merely markers, standard to be aimed for by the current crop of mind altering musicians.  Before we start however, one word of warning, this collection deals with psych with a commercial melodic edge, fans of drone, free-noise, wyrd folk, and Japanese improvised psych will probably need to look elsewhere for their fix, for everyone else thou, read on.


  Bursting in with confidence, The Lea Shores kick thing off in sprightly fashion with the guitar groove of “Fear SOS”, the indie-psych riffery suddenly breaking down for a delicate elongated end that has some swooning guitar and a delicate feel. Possibly the epitome of jangle, “Book of the Dead” is much brighter than the title suggest as The High Dials, perfect their west coast twang, getting your toes tapping in the process. Keen readers of the Terrascope will probably know of my love of The Quarter After, something not diminished after hearing their Byrdsian ditty “Early Morning Rider, which is simply gorgeous. Moving swiftly on, Youngteam hit all the right spots on the haunting psych pop of “Sunny Sunday Afternoon”, a track that would sit quite happily on a Rubbles compilation, whilst “And Jesus Said Unto Me” manages to sound like Pink Floyd if they had lived in SF, and is a cracking track as well from Belles Will Ring.


    With twisted surf guitars and a primitive snarl, Maison Blanche, hold up the garage psych flame for another generation, encouraging you to turn up the volume as they run through “Pistol People; Society”. Finding a different path to the same planet, The Black Angels, go for the heavy psych jugular, the overdriven riff of “You on the Run” the perfect way to detonate your mind. Reminding me of obscure 80’s band  The Glass Keys, mainly due to the swirling organ sound, The Dolly Rocker Movement got me dancing around the kitchen as the wonderful “Memory Lane” fell like paisley lava from the speakers, the lysergic mood only heightened by “Come Back Inside”, a trippy guitar led tune from The Electric Soft Parade.


     With a more drifting ambience, The Stevenson Ranch Davidians float off into space with the relaxing “Stargazer” guiding the way, before the beautiful acoustic strum of “How Do You Know” announces the arrival of The Hiss, featuring one of the most beautiful voices on the compilation taking the song into another dimension. Staying up in space, House of Fire stoke up the temperature with the slow burning guitar of “Walking along the Sun”, a song that has a warm and fluid groove to it, the liquid guitar adding to the feel. Once it was a Dutch beat song, then an early grunge anthem, now Sunsplit have taken the song “Lovebuzz” and turned it into a shimmering acidic epic with rising chords, spacey drums and an otherworldly charm that is so far from the other two versions that it took awhile to figure out why it sounded so familiar.  Continuing the (deliberate?) sun theme, Sunray are a lazy afternoon in the garden, the dappled shade made more enticing by a toke or two, as the lovely “I Wish You Were Mine” massages your ears. Sitting in the garden, possibly with a slice of fruitcake as well, Louis Gordon slows down your heartbeat and closes your eyes as the delicate “Always Be Around” coats you in a fine powdering of bliss.


  Staying with the mellow stoned mood, The Cush, are a sugar coated pill of organ led psych, with a backward guitar solo as well, perfect fodder for your psych banquet, as are The Deaths, whose “Turn for the Worst” is a small chunk of psych pop happiness. Finally for disc one, the perfectly named God is an Astronaut, take us “Beyond the Dying Light”, a heavenly mix of soaring guitar, and cosmic melody that closes the disc with deep space style.


    Opening disc two with a thunder of drums and a buzzing swarm of guitars, Sennen, are shoegazey psych rock, with “Blackout” having a moody petulant ambience within its heavy grooves. Following on, Mono In VCF have an expansive hallucinogenic shiver running through the strangely named “Spider Rotation”, whilst he Nova Saints, do their paisley pop thing with studied ease on the jaunty “High Roller”. Taking us deeper into the psychedelic forest, hypnotic guitars turned up to ten, the dark and mysterious The December Sound, prove their mastery of atmosphere on “Drone Refusenik”, by the time it is over you will find yourself lying on the ground staring into nothing. Building from gentle twinkling stars right up to the cosmic white light, “Sophia” is a gorgeous dream sequence from The Butterfly Explosion, the slow fadeout suddenly shattered by the arrival of Soundpool, whose electronic rhythms and fragile female vocals mark them out as a different beast from most of the other groups on this album, “Lush (What Becomes You)” remains a satisfying and beautiful tune none the less. Actually, the band who sound most similar to Soundpool follow straight after, as Perfect Blue, stray close to ambient Dance in their search for a modern take on space exploration with the keyboard laden “Sunshine”, possibly the best or worst track on this compilation, depending on your point of view. Positively ancient compared to the rest of the bands, Shoegaze survivors The Telescopes, show everyone else how it is done as the magnificent “Another Sky” wraps it tentacles around you, pulling you under into the pulsing, seething ocean of sound, the band mixing Spacemen three and The Butthole Surfers to create a vortex of sonic madness, filled with tension until it finally dissolves.


    Talking of Spacemen three, the Sonic Boom mix of The Insect Guide - “Frozen” is a sparkling jewel of floating sound, with a dancing bass line running throughout its three minute smile. Getting down and dirty with their guitars, Mugstar throw all this floatiness out of the highest tower in their quest for sonic fury, The distorted riff of “Bethany Heart Star” finding nirvana by other means. Sweet as a sugar lump, “Punk Lullaby” is power pop heaven delivered by The Zen Circus & Brian Ritchie (The Violent Femmes), with help from Kim and Kelley Deal, which explains why it reminds me of the Breeders. Swaying like a golden wheat field, then rising like a startled bird “Harvest Rex” is one of those songs you love instantly, making me want to go and find out more about Say, can everything they do be this good?


   Demonstrating a great sense of dynamics and some excellent song writing skills, Hopewell, drift into melodic prog territory, yet retain their identity on the soaring “Afterglow”, think Mid 70’s Floyd as a good place to start. Possibly inventing torch-song psychedelia and winning the name of the compilation award, Their Heart Were Full Of Spring, sound like Scott Walker rolling about in a spring meadow, the sun shining when you wish for rain, beautiful but strange.  Claiming seven plus minutes of airtime gives Aspen Woods plenty of time to display their wares, something they take advantage of as “All Roads Lead Here” soars majestically on the warm thermals of melody and restraint, the tune expanding slowly into a sea of chiming guitar and hazy ambience. To end disc two Hush The Many (Heed The Few), lead us out with the mellow epic “Storyend” that slowly fades into a haze of gentle drone and sound, leaving the listener happily gazing up at the stars.


   Perhaps too long to listen to in one sitting, each of these disc has their own flavour, and are worthy additions to the collection of anyone curious about the direction melodic psychedelia is taking at the moment. (Simon Lewis)



Various Artists – She’s A Heartbreaker: UK Floor Fillers Vol. 4

(CD on Psychic Circle)


            Speaking as a Yank, I was always fascinated at how the Brits seemed to appreciate our own soul music more than we did. After all, back during the second British Invasion (you know, the musical one), it was the beat and pop groups that took some of our obscure soul releases (typically by female artists) and turned them into international hits, such as Bessie Banks’ ‘Go Now’ (Moody Blues), Doris Troy’s ‘Just One Look’ (Hollies), Earl-Jean’s ‘I’m Into Something Good’ (Herman’s Hermits), not to mention early Stones and Beatles covers. So it should come as no surprise that the most popular series from Nick Saloman’s Psychic Circle imprint would be his UK Floor Fillers, and Volume 4 is subtitled “20 Blue Eyed Soul Stings.” Dave Hunter’s title track is a funky, brass-and-string-laden stomper that’s an intriguing cross between Elvis and Tom Jones. Tina Harvey turns in an interesting, minimalist interpretation of ‘Nowhere To Run’ that would do Soul Sister #1, Aretha proud. The resurrection of the year may be Kris Ife’s screaming, emotional interpretation of Joe South’s ‘Hush’ that Saloman opines was the inspiration for Deep Purple’s debut hit a year later. Fans of the series may recognise Johnny Curtis from his appearance on Volume 3 in the series (‘Get Ready’) with Maggie Bell as part of the Glaswegian duo, Frankie & Johnny. Here he goes solo with ‘Jack & the Beanstalk,’ a funky little ‘Mustang Sally’ soundalike.


            Stax fans will dig The Globe Show’s high energy ‘Getting’ On Back’ and trainspotters will note that The James Royal Set was a popular live act in the 60’s that, at one time or another included Rick Wakeman, John Entwistle and the late Mitch Mitchell. Bandleader Royal steps out on his own for the phenomenal, emotionally-charged corker, ‘I Can’t Stand It’ that surprisingly failed to connect with the Northern Soul crowd on its initial 1967 release. Blue Swede fans (and I know you’re out there – altogether now, “ooga chaka, ooga ooga”) will froth at the mouth over leader Bjorn Skifs’ previous band, Slam Creepers’ vein-bulging B-side, ‘Hold It Baby,’ which demonstrates that even the Swedes were bitten by the soul bug. Al Torino’s ‘Inside, Outside, Upside Down’ may sound like a thinly veiled attempt to capitalise on the Yardbirds’ success two years earlier with ‘Over Under Sideways Down,’ but this country-tinged rocker sounds more like Levon Helm and The Band decoded to dip their toes in the soul waters.


            Una Valli is a prime candidate for your female blue-eyed soul mix tape with her screaming-hot interpretation of The Stones’ ‘Satisfaction,` backed by cult favorites, The Flame(s), who were signed by the Beach Boys and included Blondie Chapman and future Rutle, Ricky Fataar! Elsewhere, The Amboy Dukes (no, not them – these guys were a popular Nottingham live act) deliver a heartwrenching, footstomping version of Arthur Conley’s ‘Who’s Fooling Who,’ complete with fiery brass pronouncements and a thunderous bass backbeat. Madeline Bell completists will wet themselves when they discover that Saloman has unearthed an anonymous session album (Beat Party, originally released on Major Minor in 1969) featuring the pseudonymous The Underground, who just happen to be Bell backed by Blue Mink, with whom she recorded half a dozen UK hit singles in the late 60s. ‘Can’t Get It Into My Head’ is a wonderful addition to her strong canon.


            Currant Kraze’s ‘Lady Pearl’ is the smoothest track in the set, another fine number from the pens of Blue Mink leaders, Rogers Cook and Greenaway, and bearing the distinctive vocals of session vocalist extraordinaire, Tony Burrows, the voice behind such classic (!?) one-hit wonder bubblegum acts as White Plains, First Class, Edison Lighthouse, The Flower Pot Men, The Brotherhood of Man, and The Pipkins. Ronnie Jones has a smooth, Lou Rawls-style delivery on ‘My Love.’ The future actor (stage version of Hair) and successful Italian DJ cut his teeth sharing vocal duties with Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger, and Long John Baldry in Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated. The New Jump Band live up to their name with the footstomping, handclapping shoutalong, ‘The Only Kind of Girl’ and it’s easy to understand why they backed Wilson Pickett and Don Covay on their visits to the UK. Their guitarist (Alex Dore) was in the late-70’s incarnation of Sly & The Family Stone. The set ends with the tongue-in-cheek ‘Ain’t No Soul,’ by Trinidad native, Kenny Bernard, who parlayed his friendship with David Bowie into a successful career fronting The Wranglers and the psychedelic Cat’s Pyjamas. Here he imbues this barnstormer with the spirit of the late, great Otis Redding. (Jeff Penczak)



( CD http://www.kelliali.com )

This is an utterly gorgeous album which put me immediately in mind of Vashti Bunyan, a similarly beguiling and superficially whimsical singer exploring the darker side of folk, wherein nursery rhymes invariably come to a bloody conclusion and dreams sometimes have an unfortunate habit of coming true. The material on here was likewise primarily inspired by a roadtrip: in Vashti’s case it was a late 60s trek around Ireland in a gypsy caravan, and for Kelli it was travelling across California and Mexico after leaving London in 2004. “The sacred canyons in Mexico, the vast wilderness of California... Time spent on the open road, hitching rides with truck drivers, sleeping under the stars and watching the flames of the campfires shape stories and dreams to be made into song”

Highlights include ‘The Savages’ where the sparse yet soaring orchestral arrangements create visionary vistas not dissimilar to ‘Diamond Spirit’ (a beacon of flickering brilliance from Los Angeles-based jazz-psych legends Spirit and their oft-overlooked mid 70s ‘Farther Along’ album), the epic and bewitchingly glorious ‘September Sky’ which drips pure California gold and rises to a majestic instrumental crescendo, and the brilliantly wordless ‘The Kiss’ (along with the achingly tear-stained ‘Kiss Epilogue’ which closes the album).

Like all good journeys, the album grows stronger as it unfolds. The lyrical poetry and haunting cor anglais on ‘Flowers’ is poignantly lovely; ‘Water Under The Bridge’ is a whimsical delight full of twinkling moments and flourishes. Elsewhere there are medieval and baroque-folk sensibilities at play, songs which plough similar furrows to the rich earth being tilled by Sharron Kraus. And recommendations around here don’t come much stronger than that.

Normally we’d include a link to the record label’s website, but since the Terrascope seems to be some way beneath One Little Indian’s promotional radar and they left it to Kelli herself to take the trouble to get in touch with us, I’m instead linking to her own website. It's a much nicer website in any case. Do yourself a favour and check this one out – rest assured we’ll be following her future path with some interest. (Phil McMullen)



MR PINE – REWILDING  (CD from http://www.mrpine.net/)


    Having seen their magnificent performance at The Greenman Festival, I was really looking forward to hearing this EP when it fell through the door. Showing that she has lost none of her vibrancy or vocal power, Alison O’Donnell’s vocals stole the show live, the closest I will ever get to seeing Mellow Candle perform, and a festival highlight. On this collection of five songs, the balance is more even with Steven Collins adding a plethora of musical dexterity to the rich and powerful songs, the result sounding like classic early seventies folk/rock, especially on the traditional “William and Earl Richards Daughter”, a tune that will have fans of the genre salivating with glee.


  Of course, it would be unfair to treat this as an exercise in nostalgia, the opening track “The Wooden Coat” banishing those thoughts with its eerie production and creeping melodies, sounding as up to date as any other folk luminary, more hand/eye than Steeleye Span. Moving on “Flodden Field”, is a simpler song with the vocals made even more beautiful by the presence of Nancy Wallace, who provides sublime harmonies that lift the song into magical realms.


    Written entirely by Steven Collins, Scarlet Threads and Silver Needles”, is a gentle drifting instrumental, short and very sweet indeed. Finally, “The Fabric of Life” closes the selection, a gorgeous piano led tune, the sweet melodies and plaintive violin lines adding a bitter sweet poignancy, building up to a crescendo of emotion, the perfect blend of old and new.


    Tenuously linked by the fact that Alison O’Donnell adds guest vocals to one track, the second album from Mr Pine is a rewarding collection of songs that take Acid-Folk as a starting point, but is not afraid to tread less travelled paths.


   With all songs written by Matt McLennan and Kevin Scott, there is a wonderful flow to the album, each song is enhanced by a full band adding bass, drums, electric guitar, and female vocals, all of which maintain that acid folk tag. After the gently swaying opener “Ace of Cups I”, the band get into the groove with the laid back west-coast feel of “Streets of New York”, featuring guest banjo from Jay Churko. Building up the tempo, “Set Piece” is a faster song with a more contemporary sound, that is, until the songs breaks down for a recorder solo, falling through time back to 1972, and doing so with great skill.


     Featuring harpsichord and some lovely strings, “Blue Onyx” is a baroque folk delight, yet is obviously the same band as one the previous track, something I find pleasing, a band aware of its own identity and sound.  One of the album highlights for me is the pure folk-rock of “Glass Petals”, acoustic picking and rocking electric chords blended perfectly, the top notch vocals, powerful rhythm section and twisted violin adding the tension to a dark tale of murder, as it should be, and a sure fire classic.


    Written as a homage to musical heroes Mellow Candle, the songwriters never expected that “Sleep of Ondine” would actually feature vocals from Alison O’Donnell, but so it proved, the song a tribute so well written that it would sit quite happily on “Swaddling Songs” itself. Featuring a small gathering of recorders, the wistful love song “The Enclave”, is so beautiful it will stop you in its tracks, another classic in the making and another reason for you to buy this album now. Having unleashed their muse, the band do not let up for the rest of the disc, the rockier “Cymbeline”, followed by the quieter flow of “Robin’s Breast”, featuring vocals, guitar, violin and tambourine, giving the song a pastoral feel, with some exquisite lyrics adding to the joyous vibe.


     A just over six minutes “Dirge” is a heavy guitar drone that slowly envelopes the almost chanted lyrics as the song progresses. This is folk with a totally modern twist and came as something of a surprise, although it fits in with the rest of the album, again proving the bands ability to retain their identity whilst changing their sound. To end this fine offering we get a string-laden instrumental reprise of the opening track, the uplifting playing on “Ace of Cups II” leading us out with a dance in our feet and a smile in our heart, just wonderful. (Simon Lewis).




(CD from www.cabinetofnaturalcuriosities.com)


    It was November 2006 when I first heard “Vinelands” and fell in love with the intoxicating music of Jasmine Dreame Wagner, the album filled with dream-laden folk and whispering melodies. Now, two years later, I am hypnotised again, the beautiful sounds of this album even eclipsing what has gone before, a mature and confident records that manages to awaken my very soul.


    Opening with a chiming guitar, “little Ice Age” is quickly enveloped in a sonic mist that falls from the mountainside, chilly whispered vocals creating tension that is not released by the persistent percussion and insistent echoed flutes. Following on, “Sun” follows a similar path, although this time the guitar and melody remain at the front, dancing above the mist, the gorgeous chorus refrain shining like a jewel within the song.


    Sounding like Banhart covering Pink Floyd (almost), “For Sparrow” is possibly the finest track on the album, the soft folk beginnings of the song soothing the listener before t strange things happen, the tune drifting into a slice of electronic psych-drone, destroying time and any memory of what has gone before. All of a sudden, guitar and vocals return, the haunting “Cities”, beautifully simple and simply beautiful.


    More psych than folk, “moon” is a whispering lament seemingly as ancient as the world itself, a wisp of smoke that curls across the room and vanishes. Building from a rattle of bells, “Glass” utilises every second of its eleven minutes, rising from experimental roots to become an electric monster, featuring raw drumming and banshee guitar, demonstrating a rare sense of abandon within its fractured groove, before finally decaying into the forest floor. Offering sweet rest “Grass” relaxes the senses, calming the very earth with poetic charm. After the drone of “Fabulist Decay”, a stuttering cloud of noise, “Black Water” emerges slowly, blinking in the pale sun, a minimalist guitar line frosted with a gorgeous vocal performance, slow and delicious. Finally “Owllullaby” end as it began, a chiming guitar and wonderful lyrics bringing a smile to your face and warmth to your heart.


    Also available is “Charcoal”, a book of poetry that is the perfect companion to the album, as well as a fine collection in its own right. Featuring long poems as well as a few shorter pieces, the poems demand attention and re-reading before meaning is found, although the first read reveals images and single lines that strike an immediate chord. (Simon Lewis)



Susanna – Flower of Evil

(CD from Rune Grammofon)


            Leaving her Magical Orchestra behind, Susanna Karolina Wallumrød’s second solo effort is a sublime collection of a dozen cover versions supplemented by two original compositions. An excellent companion piece to the Magical Orchestra’s 2006 “covers album,” Melody Mountain, these releases firmly establish Susanna as one of the premiere interpreters on the scene today. Her interpretations of classic and occasionally obscure tunes by the likes of Thin Lizzy, Sandy Denny, Lou Reed, Nico, Black Sabbath, Badfinger, Abba, and Roy Harper(!) demonstrate she has one helluva record collection. I’d certainly love to accompany her on a cross country trip just to hear the mix tapes she assembled for the ride! Opening with a duet with Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Susanna turns Phil Lynott’s high energy, anthemic ‘Jailbreak’ into a quiet, mournful dirge, reciting the lyrics as if she was reading a news item in the local paper, accompanied only by her grand piano backing. Perhaps the closest reference points would be vintage Low (particularly Mimi’s iceberg-slow renditions of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and ‘I Started A Joke’) and Mark Kozelek’s album of AC/DC covers, What’s Next To The Moon or his Modest Mouse covers album, Tiny Cities, released under the Sun Kil Moon moniker. In fact, her version of Black Sabbath’s ‘Changes’ could have been an old Red House Painters’ B-side!


            Susanna’s gut wrenching rendition of Sandy Denny’s ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’ may be the closest version yet to capturing Sandy’s emotional outpouring – let me just suggest that this may be the interpretation that renders all future attempts superfluous. Most tracks are stripped down to simply Susanna’s voice and grand piano accompaniment, a minimalist approach that adds an air of mystery to the tunes, allowing listeners to hear them in a totally new light where the lyrics take center stage over the often tumultuous musical backings in the originals. The haunting silence in the spaces surrounding her voice continues to marry the precocious, little girl squeak of Bjork with the wise-beyond-her-years, icy quality of a Joni Mitchell.


            If there’s any hesitation in giving this an unqualified, five-star recommendation, it’s that halfway through the album you realise that the arrangements are going to pretty much be the same style, which gives the feeling that you’re listening to a mix tape of the original versions of these songs at the wrong speed…you keep hoping that, just once, she would kick up her heels and break out a sweat or two! But that’s a small price to pay for the warmly recorded album (on vintage analog equipment in Atlantis Studios in Stockholm). This certainly complements the stark, minimalist arrangements. Perhaps the only thing missing is a crackling fireplace in the background!


            Elsewhere, it’s hard to imagine anyone capturing the icy aloofness of Nico the way Susanna does on her interpretation of the late chanteuse’s ‘Janitor of Lunacy.’ Overall, this is one of the year’s finest releases, and fans of Mark Kozelek (in any and all of his guises), vintage Low, and the other artists mentioned above will definitely want to add this to their Christmas list. (Jeff Penczak)




(CD / 3xLP on Drag City)


Regular Terrascope readers and fans of Six Organs of Admittance (arguably, one and the same thing when it comes down to it) will immediately recognise the cover of this new collection on Drag City as the inverse of that stunning 1998 LP on the Pavilion imprint which coupled the mind-blowing ‘Sum of all Heaven’ with ‘Race from Visnu’. For myself, and many more like me, it was the starting point of a love-affair with Ben Chasny’s music which has lasted undimmed for a decade or more now. Ben has very kindly, and diligently, thanked each and every one of his early supporters in the sleeve notes: the writers and journalists such as Mats Gustaffson of Broken Face in Sweden, Gregor Kessler over at Hay Fever in Germany and Americans Byron Coley and Tony Rettman (200Lb Underground); the record labels such as  Nemo’s Time Lag, Cory’s Three Lobed and John Whitson’s Holy Mountain, and fellow musicians such as Matt Valentine, Jack Rose and Josh Burkett.


Few of those named, or indeed any long-standing fan, will find too many surprises on ‘RTZ’ (the title allegedly referring to the button marked as such which returns a Tascam 484 to zero), including as it does ‘Resurrection’ which was once half a split LP on Time Lag Records with Charalambides, ‘Warm Earth, Which I’ve Been Told’ from a Mental Telemetry CD also featuring Vibracathedral Orchestra and the Magic Carpathians, the wonderful ‘You Can Always See The Sun’ from the Three Lobed Recordings ‘Purposful Availments’ subscription series – and of course the mighty ‘Nightly Trembling’, without which no such collection could ever justifiably be called complete. Originally released in 1999 in miniscule quantities, copies of which were given away, it was later reissued by Time Lag – and even that one’s rare now.


The real interest here though lies with ‘Punish the Chasms with Wings’, a five-element, eighteen minute piece of prime late ‘90s SOOA material which has been hitherto unreleased and all but unheard. Effects-laden washes of temple sounds swirl from speaker to speaker until the actual tune starts somewhere around the 5 minute point, whereupon the lead guitars kick in, and a chorus of wordless chanted vocals that build to a crescendo without ever quite going over the edge into mayhem, finally closing with one of Ben’s trademark finger-tugged semi-acoustic guitar spirituals. It’s at once dramatic, prismatic and quite frankly awesome.


You need this. And just to underline the fact, Drag City have thoughtfully made it available in a 3LP boxed set format as well as on a double CD – I’ve yet to see one, but it’s gone straight to the top of my Christmas list! (Phil McMullen)



(CD available from www.brucebarthol.com )

Well who’d have thought that after all this time, Bruce Barthol would finally release a solo record?

Bruce needs no introduction to Terrascope readers – bass player on the first three Country Joe & The Fish albums and a founding member of the wonderful Formerly Fat Harry, Bruce has played with some of the best including Pete Seeger, Roy Harper, Scoop Nisker, the East Bay Sharks, and the Green Briar Boys, though his most enduring musical activity was as Musical Director of the San Francisco Mime Troupe for over 30 years.

Always a prolific composer, he’s written over 300 songs, I guess the time seemed right to finally record a solo record. As he says, all but one of the songs here were written for the theatre (plays and musicals).and he rightly felt these were songs that could live outside the shows they were written for.

The album was recorded in New York late this past summer after an abortive attempt in San Francisco, with the likes of Will Scarlett and Tony Marcus. ‘I didn't like what we ended up with’, says Bruce, ‘and I realized that I shouldn't produce, play and sing all at once’. So he headed to the East Coast to hook up with producer, musician and friend, Dred Scott, who was in the SFMT for a few years, and who Bruce always hires to play with him at NY gigs. Dred offered to produce and organize the sessions in Brooklyn. And the results will raise more than just a smile on the faces of anyone who has followed Bruce’s musical career over the years. The song writing is uniformly strong and why Bruce chose not to sing in Fat Harry is a mystery on this evidence.

The album opens with ‘Steeltown Blues’, written in '83 for a San Francisco Mime Troupe show called ‘Steeltown’. ‘The industrial shut down was in full swing under Reagan and we wanted to look at how and why it was happening’, Barthol recalls, ‘We did research at the steel mill in Pittsburgh, California and with the Steelworkers Union local’. This blues rocker gets the record off to a fine start. Following in a similar musical vein, ‘Nothing to Lose’ was written for ‘Mall*Mart: the Musical’ (about WallMart) which was produced in 2007 in Denver at the Curious Theater (book by Joan Holden) and also at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The Eastern European-flavoured ‘80-20’ comes from a play called ‘OffShore’ (SFMT and Joan Holden), about globalization. ‘I've been to Manila, Mexico City and Rio and that was where I got my inspiration for the lyrics’. Bruce says, ‘Musically it has its roots in Kurt Weil (one of my faves) and probably owes something to Brecht. I also changed some lyrics and some of the music when I recorded it. The show did play Hong Kong (where some of the action took place)’.

‘Star Ferry’, a surprisingly romantic ballad in amongst the more political/social commentary, was a song he was asked to write for a SFMT related project in Asia called ‘Big Wind’. Bruce: ‘They wanted an American style love song about an immigrant worker who's made it to Hong Kong and is riding on the Star Ferry. I did some research and got some descriptions from people who'd been there and wrote the song. I faxed it to Everest Postal, Kathmamdu, Nepal. They put it in the show but the actors who were mostly south Asian couldn't sing in 3/4 time so they changed it to 4/4. I went to Hong Kong with the OffShore show in '93 and met up with the ‘Big Wind’ show. That cast sang me their version as we went from Hong Kong to Kowloon on Star Ferry. (I stayed on the boat to make sure you could ride back and forth without paying again). New lyrics were added for the recording’.

Of ‘Caught in the Middle’, Bruce says, ‘a song from an as yet to be produced show called ‘1741’ about a rebellion in New York City in that year. The song really should be sung by a woman (and is in the play). It's sung by a 14 year old girl who works in a tavern frequented by poor whites and African slaves. It's a thieves den and she is caught between the police and her former friends who think she's betrayed them. I felt her situation had some universal applications’.

‘Goodbye to White Deer’ is arguably my favourite cut here, one he aired live on KPIG radio out of Santa Cruz last Easter, a bitter sweet lament on urban progress and the death of small communities, a country ballad which would sound good in the hands of Willie Nelson. ‘I wrote this for my thesis project at New York University/Tisch School of the Arts where I got an MFA in '93’, recalls Barthol, ‘the book writer was from Texas where it was set. Rural dislocation has been ongoing for the last 50 years. A line in the first verse was "You can't live on oil when the prices keep going down" which was true at the time. I changed the line to "You can't live on oil when there's no oil left in the ground" which is now true. I like country music’. Terrific stuff!

Anyone who’s caught the Original Country Joe Band live will instantly recognise ‘Cakewalk To Baghdad’ a satirical ode written specifically about the stupidity of the Iraq war, one he wrote after he heard some idiot talk about "it's going to be a cakewalk." Equally potent and funny is the honky-tonkin’ ‘The ‘Fighting Side of Jesus’. ‘I've written a number of songs about the fundamentalists’, says Bruce, ‘In the UK you have to look hard to find such nut ball insanity. I was first exposed to it when I lived in Pennsylvania in the 50's. This is an anthem for the Christian Dominionists. I believe it's a fair statement of their beliefs. Irony is a tricky thing in the USA since it requires a certain amount of knowledge. About half the population doesn't accept the theory of evolution’.

In contrast, the sad, grim but ultimately uplifting ‘Badajoz is a description of the battle and massacre, which occurred in the town of Badajoz in Spain in 1936. It unified control of western Spain by the Nationalists who then began their drive to Madrid. It was written for ‘Spain '36’, another Mime Troupe show that was produced at the Los Angeles Theatre Centre in 1986, the 50th anniversary of the start of the Spanish Civil War.

The album ends with ‘Empty Chair’ from a play called ‘Cages’ by Robin Karfo. It was produced at Intersection for the Arts in San Francisco. Bruce: ‘I was thinking about Polly Class, a girl who was kidnapped and murdered near here at the time. Also, my father had told me the story of the death of a cousin in the '30's and how it affected the family. I rarely perform it’.

As would befit anyone who came out of that whole early 60s civil rights era, Bruce’s material oozes with razor sharp insight, social concern, deadpan humour and a cool anger, qualities absent from just about any other record you’re likely to hear in 2008. It’s heart warming to see your old heroes still doing good work – and this delivers, it still has that great militant Berkeley vibe! Go out and buy a copy of this little gem forthwith and support one of the good guys! In times like these we need them more than ever! (Nigel Cross)
(With thanks to Bruce for all the background details)