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(54 min, Cuneiform Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Fire Shuffle 7:55 2. Unawake 2:23 3. The Seven and Six 5:40 4. Longreach 3:03 5. Amplifier Hum 2:23 6. Black Ice 3:32 7. Exhumed 4:20 8. Scratch 4:07 9. Hashishin 7:50 10. St. James Infirmary 5:43 11. Wings of the Magpie 4:20 12. In The Morning 2:57 LINEUP: Alec K. Redfearn – vocals; accordion; synths Orion Rigel Dommisse – vocals; two organs Frank Difficult – percussion; electronics Matt McLaren – drums, percussion Chris Sadlers – contrabass Mark Elliott – doumbek Ann Schattle – horn With: Clint Heidorn – guitars (2, 4, 6, 8, 9) &: Several more musicians on strings and backing vocals
Prolusion. As the CD press kit says, exploring the mysteries of life, death, love, etc., the 12-track “Sister Death” is the seventh album by the American project ALEC K REDFERN & THE EYESORES, their most immediately accessible creation to date. I wasn’t acquainted with the outfit’s work before.
Analysis. With a constant stream of new releases, all demanding to be listened to and reviewed, it is refreshing when one has something different to offer the listener. This album is such a case, capably fronted by singer, accordionist and songwriter Alec K Redfern, fusing elements of folk, pop, rock and – occasionally – classical and avant-garde, with plenty of beauty, originality, hooks and riffs. On the negative side, most of the compositions are straightforward and instantly accessible, with a number of those featuring no changes in pace at all. Dulcet folk rock is a dominant aspect of the band’s aural diction, though it most often appears in the form of ballad, such as on Unawake, The Seven and Six, Exhumed, In The Morning and Longreach, none of which involve a drum kit. Stylistically, the first three of them overall are traditional folk ballads, while the latter two, ornamented by chamber music-evoking arrangements, at times have a light classical feel to them too, the latter featuring a theme that reminds me much of ‘Il Vecchio de Castagne’ from Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”. The folk side of the band’s music derives either from traditional English modalities (on the first two described tracks) or South European ones (on each of the pieces of a full-band sound: read below), along with the use of accordion and violins which add further ethnic spice to the arrangements. The only exception to this rule is St. James Infirmary, an old-fashioned blues-tinged American ‘chanson’ of the Tom Waits variety, so to speak. The remaining five compositions, Fire Shuffle, Wings of the Magpie, Black Ice, Scratch and The Seven and Six, all go beyond the strict singer/songwriter territory, particularly the latter three, the majority of them having a rich, real ensemble sound. The first of them is an overtly straightforward, yet decidedly psychedelic rock romp, which does mesmerize me despite the fact that it is based on the bass riff that remains unchanged throughout. The counterpart of the above idiom/the band’s primary style is Avant-garde Rock (can’t call it a Chamber one or RIO), not far removed from Frank Zappa’s, although it never reveals itself as a separate style, fully covering one or two of the tracks, for instance, but is normally blended with South European folk motifs (mainly Balkan Gypsies’ ones, as I suppose), which is what the rest of those five tracks represent overall. Save that on Wings of the Magpie, which appears as being underdeveloped, the music is in all cases very interesting, featuring nice use of guitar, strings, accordion and keyboards, but no vocals on the latter three pieces-winners. All the players involved shine here, as soloists in particular, but, nonetheless, it’s a guest musician, guitarist Clint Heidorn, who gives the arrangements the most unusual element, sometimes delivering even MIO-like riffs. As to the singing, it’s excellent throughout, sans a Tom Wait-style song. Alec’s voice is very distinctive and suits the material perfectly. The female (it’s unclear whose exactly) voice is delicate and soulful and is commanding when she sings lead, though on most of the pieces she’s harmonizing with Alec. The duo nicely blends their voices on the cut entitled Amplifier Hum, on which there is almost nothing besides their vocals.
Conclusion. It’s evident via the compositions, lyrics, singing, harmonies and overall presentation that the genesis of most of the twelve tunes here is the singular vision of the songwriter, with the group arrangements built around that initial concept. Recommended to those who like beautiful music – not exactly of the progressive variety.
VM=Vitaly Menshikov: May 5, 2012
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