=  September 2023 =  
 v/a Wicker Man comp
Agusa
Cobra Kraft
Sean Wolcott












 
 
 
 
 
 

VARIOUS - BALLADS OF SEDUCTION, FERTILITY AND RITUAL SLAUGHTER
(2XLP, CD and DL from Ballads Of Seduction, Fertility And Ritual Slaughter | Was Ist Das? (bandcamp.com))

This year marks the 50th anniversary of enduring cult British film, The Wicker Man, which helped so much to popularise the folk horror genre, while its soundtrack, composed by American Paul Giovanni (but borrowing heavily from age-old traditional music) would inspire the revival of Wyrd Folk in the late 1990s. Eschewing the usual horror devices of bloodlust and jump scenes, the film is open to interpretation in many respects. So too the music, comprising of often pleasant melodies and sung with a sweetness reflecting the outwardly sunny and friendly disposition of the locals of Summerisle towards unwitting victim, Police Sgt Neil Howie, but hides something altogether darker.

This re-imagining of the Wicker Man soundtrack features many names familiar to (and most likely popular with) The Reader. There is some adjustment to the original’s running order while one or two tracks have been split to allow for greater representation and whereas some of the contributions are highly interpretive others remain more faithful. The traditional ‘The Highland Widow’s Lament’ (by the peerless Burd Ellen)  supplants ‘Corn Rigs’ in pole position, eerily replicating the drone of Howie’s plane as he attempts to leave Summerisle, while disembodied vocals seem to drift in and out of the smoke that would thwart his escape. Elsewhere, Hawthonn take ‘Lullaby’ to a purgatorial spirit-world somewhere twixt Carlton and Sharon Crutcher’s Book of Shadows and a more rustic Dead Can Dance.  It segues ominously into Teleplasmiste’s ‘Festival/Mirie It Is’ (one of the traditional medieval tunes) and which dissolves into an ambient swirl before slowly re-emerging into the light with a reprise of the pipes from which it emerged.

We were alerted to this release by Sharron Kraus and it would be highly remiss not to mention Sharron’s vital contribution here - her multi-tracked voice on ‘Sing Cuckoo’ sung over sparse instrumentation is a confection of melancholic loveliness. ‘Loving Couple/The Ruined Church’ is one David Colohan’s two nourishing contributions. His other is as part of Terrascope favourites United Bible Studies who, working their beguiling magic on ‘Procession/Chop Chop’, incorporate traditional nursery rhyme and snatches of folk staple ‘Willie O’Winsbury’. Banshees of Bunworth (an off-shoot of the marvellous Woven Skull) take on an old Irish reel and almost manage to coax it into a jig. The track in question is ‘Searching for Rowan’, namely Rowan Morrison, the ‘missing girl’ whose disappearance Howie was despatched to find. The name was cleverly appropriated by Rowan Amber Mill and Angeline Morrison for their project a few years back.

There would be absolutely no point in simply engaging in note-for-note covers and even those that tend to hug the original shoreline here still manage to chart new and interesting courses. There are in places the tendency to retrofit based on what we have since gleaned about the original film and our present discomfort about certain aspects of 70s permissiveness. Thus the supposedly playful bawdiness of ‘The Landlord’s Daughter’ is eviscerated by Andrew Liles who transforms it into a grotesquely lurching waltz and what sounds like a descent into madness. It’s what you might expect from a one-time Nurse With Wound/Current 93 collaborator. In stark contrast, Meg Baird tackles the oft-covered ‘Willow’s Song’, on which she stamps her indelible beauty while not needing to deviate too far from the original melody and form. By way of conclusion, ‘Sunset’ sounds like it was made for Dean McPhee spacey Telecaster and a near perfect way to play out as the flames die down of their own accord. Of course nowadays they’d have to have fire marshals and a few buckets of water just in case, but you get the drift (and it is still ‘The Wicker Man’ not ‘Woker Man’ so how’s that for a trigger warning).

With further notable contributions including an enticing and mildly disconcerting  ‘Maypole’ by Magpahi (Alison Cooper), Ballads of Seduction...  ranks as a more than respectable companion to the soundtrack and one that stands tall without seeking to either emulate or surpass the original. ‘Folk Album of the Month’? Possibly so, although its experimentalism and amorphousness suggests that such a narrow designation would be insufficient.

Sgt Howie would never have approved, mind you.

Ian Fraser



AGUSA – PRIMA MATERIA

(CD, Digital on Kommun2)

 

Swedish prog quintet Agusa returns for a new studio album full of joyous, well-rounded compositions, outstanding production, and above all, excellent performances by its stellar musicians.  We loved 2021’s En Annan Värld, and with Prima Materia you get four tracks of more of the same lush, highly melodic, lengthy, adventurous, mostly instrumental workouts.

 

One might wonder if it’s possible to make great prog with very little vocals, Mellotron, synths, or weird time signatures, but Agusa proves it’s not only possible, but triumphant.  The key lies in keyboardist Roman Andrén, who sticks mostly to organ, flautist Jenny Puertas, and guitarist Mikael Ödesjö, who all take turns shining – over and over again.  Agusa tends to start with a pretty simple melodic line, often brief and sometimes as little as two chords, and just embellish the heck out of them with instrumentation and solos that never lack for variation, invention or interest.  It’s a system they have down to a science.

 

The opener “Lust och fägring (Sommarvisan)” is both the album’s longest track at fourteen and a half minutes, and its centerpiece.  Flexible flautist Jenny Puertas plays solos that can be either Ian Anderson-type breathy or traditional in style.  Mikael Ödesjö’s guitar solos are right in the pocket, while Andrén’s organ holds the line together well.  Drummer Nicolas Difornas gets in on the act, too, with some standout fills and solos.  The song takes many twists and turns - there’s even an interesting Dark Side of the Moon/Wish You Were Here-esque middle section, and a false ending where the band goes out and comes back in for a freakout finale.

 

On “Under bar himmel,” Puertas introduces the theme with a plaintive flute figure, with some great trippy keyboard flourishes by Andrén.  The melody interestingly contains traces of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” at times and Gordon Lightfoot’s “Beautiful” at others, to these ears at least.  After about three and a half minutes, the band transitions from melancholy to a delirious fast-tempo jam.  Again, the three principals combine melody with super chops in their solos.  The song downshifts again to familiar Floydian territory, before returning to the opening melody line, and just a glimpse of that Mellotron.  Did I mention how splendid the production is?  This track does not miss.

 

“Ur askan” combines melodic and rhythmic elements of traditional Greek, gypsy and/or klezmer music, with some perhaps unexpected vocals by Puerta late in the track.  Closer “Så ock på jorden” starts with some wordless vocals from Puertas and Difornas over a strummed acoustic guitar.  It transitions to a jaunty marching-style section, before concluding in an elegiac tune.  Puertas again shows her versatile flute playing in different styles.

 

With Agusa you know what you’re getting – great prog that lays dazzling instrumental playing over the top of unfussy, uncomplicated but upbeat, catchy melodies.  Have I commented on the production?  It’s spotless.

(Mark Feingold)



COBRA KRAFT – THE BAPTISM OF PEDRO DEL ZORRO

(LP from Crispin Glover Records)

 

In which tenor sax player Petter Kraft and guitarist Per Borten from Norwegian Motorpsycho-spin off hard-rock outfit Spidergawd rope in various band-members and musicians they admire from local rock and metal outfits to, initially, prepare something for the Trondheim jazz festival, and ultimately to explore a shared love of 1970s jazz-rock – Jeith Jarrett, Alice Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders and Miles Davis formed the blueprint, with shades of Hendrix had Hendrix gone down the jazz rabbit-hole I always suspected he might had he lived. The results are way, way better than they deserve to be: there’s not a trace of self-indulgency here, just some truly jaw-dropping musicianship and instrumentation, from the saxophone /guitar interplay of the opening ‘Kikuchiyo’ to the outstanding keyboard twinkling of ‘Peder Morset’; from the swinging ‘Kaltaget’ and the mind-bending guitar soloing that follows it to ‘Elina Akino’ where everything finally comes together in a glorious symphonic cacophony. Oh, and not forgetting the percussive brilliance of ‘Lokken Verk’ that closes the album. This is one hell of a great debut and most assuredly a keeper!

 

(Phil McMullen)

 



Sean Wolcott LP cover

SEAN WOLCOTT – VIOLENT HAND OF THE SLEEPING CITY

(Bandcamp)

 

From the ever-popular field of imaginary 70s action film soundtracks comes Seattle composer and musician Sean Wolcott’s Violent Hand of the Sleeping City.  Whether you call it library music, with its implied ad hoc nature, or a fully formed soundtrack in search of that ‘violent hand,’ Wolcott connects.  We know this much – the story of said movie includes a wicked cult in that grimy metropolis, since the score begins with a chant from its members, and returns for a couple of reprises later in the album.

 

The tracks also include much of what you’d expect – tense, funky, jazzy action chase music, lurking-in-the-shadows incidental cues on vibraphone, and a wordless female chorus, all composed and performed flawlessly.  The long-sideburned Nixon-era police are at the heart of many of the song titles and their respective musical themes, including “Nightmare on the Streets,” “Excessive Use of Force,” “Centurions of the Night,” “Rookie on the Beat,” “Tangle with San Francisco’s Finest” and “God Help the Fuzz.”  “Excessive Use of Force” includes sound effects of a police siren in the background; might I suggest you not listen to that one whilst driving around in your car.

 

The thrilling score is performed predominantly on brass and woodwinds, with occasional jazz ensemble flourishes such as the guitar and keyboards on “Rookie on the Beat.”  It could use some strings to present a completer and more accurate representation of the genre, but this is mostly me quibbling, since Wolcott probably had a limited budget that could only go so far.  The exception on the strings is the lush closing ballad “With All That is Left,” sung by Lauren Santi, with lyrics about survival and being left the last one standing, perhaps after the climactic gun battle.  The sweeping ballad conjures that pullaway shot of the noirish, big bad city while the end credits roll.

 

The album’s a fun listen, and actually makes you wish there were an accompanying movie to watch, complete with film scratches and pops.  In that, Wolcott has done his job admirably.  Pass the popcorn and watch out for stray bullets.

 

(Mark Feingold)