Karl Culley – Stripling
Label: Sound of Jura http://www.soundofjura.com/
SOJCD1501 CD Time: About 36 minutes
Tracks: 1) Semi-Precious, 2) Come Over To Me, 3) School Of The Heart, 4) Spinneret, 5) The River To The Cave, 6) If We Were Free, 7) Namesake, 8) Mote, 9) Infinity Pool, 10) Whey-Faced Phantoms, 11) A.J., 12) Memory’s Like A Hunting Hawk
Youth, on the verge of adulthood, in search of meaning and perhaps companionship. Young enough and determined to look forward and hope and old enough to reflect on memories and retain some wisdom from experiences; this I interpret to be the theme of Karl Culley’s latest album Stripling. This is Culley’s fourth album, and he now lives in Krakow, Poland, where the album was recorded, but still with strong roots remaining in the north of England and Scotland. His previous albums are: Bundle of Nerves, The Owl and Phosphor.
The songs on Stripling range from hypnotic meditations to something that might cause a gathering of folks (in a pub, perhaps) to spontaneously dance (or at least vigorously toe-tap). The sonics are relatively intimate and unadorned: It’s Culley, his guitar and his voice, but it’s a deeply resonant recording. Contrary to some of his finger-style guitar contemporaries like William Tyler, Daniel Bachman or James Blackshaw there are no lengthy rambling instrumentals. The songs are penetrating and get right to their point with an atmosphere, a memory or story. While others have made comparisons to the work of John Martyn and Bert Jansch, I’ll add the early acoustic works of Gordon Lightfoot (with echoes of his subtle vocal warbles) and the technical crispness and vigor of John Jorgenson and Tommy Emmanuel.
Judging from the reflective nature of his lyrics, it seems like Culley’s work takes time to gestate, but once a piece is fledged it’s cohesive and thoughtfully formulated. There are curious ironies and juxtapositions between rhythms and words. The somewhat brief Come Over To Me seems to be based on heavy subjects, yet the meter, fingerings and melody are lively, but not exactly upbeat. Mote has lyrics (“Floating like a mote through sun or angels trapped in amber, we fall…”) that reference the abstract yet there is a steady grounded rhythm and melody. Whereas Semi-Precious, School Of The Heart, Spinneret and Namesake are reflective, even tender meditations, with the rhythmic fingerings of Spinneret reminiscent of some of Nick Drake’s work—and there is a humble elegance in Namesake.
The mood of a song and lyrics can also be direct and related like the more serious The River To The Cave—not sentimental or wallowing, but observant of circumstances. Vibrant lyrics and melody align in If We Were Free, with much of the verses being slightly-pitched spoken word observations with the final incantation “3 men are lowered into the ground…” abruptly punctuated with silence before returning one last time to the vigorous refrain (reminds me of Richard Thompson’s work).
Stripling isn’t without musing, delighting in the possibilities of enjoying a figurative or literal swim in the reverie of an Infinity Pool—it also is curiously similar rhythmically to the acoustic version of Layla that Eric Clapton recorded a number of years ago. There are also moments where advice is presented or experiences recounted as in Whey-Faced Phantoms, which evolves into a cautionary mantra and A.J. recalling the desolation of unexpected endings—in both, the melodies and harmonies echoing the starkness of a mood.
The album closes with Memory’s Like a Hunting Hawk, intensively focused with desire. There is, however, a pensive gentleness in the longing…solemn and hauntingly lyrical all at once. Also of special note are the pen and ink illustrations that decorate the CD and cover, as if from a notebook of youth: pondering, exploring, even brooding yet freely expressing. This CD made a long journey to me, and I’m glad it finally made it.
This is a solicited review.
CD: 68bpm 001 Time: 41:26
Website: http://drummassage.com/ (Purchase option links at website will be “live” as of 4/28/15)
Tracks: Chimes (Intro), 68BPM, Interlude, Rolls, Heartbeat I, Chimes Coda, Heartbeat II
Performed by Phil Didlake, Leah Gramsjohnson, Isabella Iatarola, Tessa Kaslewicz, Ben Meyers, Clara Natonabah and Steve Wilkes, with support from the Berklee College of Music. Field recordings from the Hear Cape Cod project
Something a bit different from our standard music review…what is known as “functional music.”
Whether by means of self-hypnosis, meditation (such as TM) or other approaches, there is a point where the body and mind can achieve a surprising state of awareness in the midst of a deep calm. Along with others, Dr. Herbert Benson used the term The Relaxation Response to describe a multi-step process for achieving this state. One method to assist with relaxation is by using various forms of music. I can attest anecdotally to the healing and calming powers of certain forms of music.
The Drummassage album is an outgrowth of a project started by Steve Wilkes (a faculty member at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts). Some may recall that Steve Wilkes and Ginny Fordham brought us their Hear Cape Cod project in 2013, a set of field recordings accompanied with remixes by many well-known ambient and experimental musicians as well as a companion album of songs inspired by Cape Cod (another in that series will be released later in 2015).
Drummassage started as an informal gathering and exploration of the possible healing and calming power of drums and drumming at Wilkes’s Berklee studio (an aside: Berklee offers various degrees and concentrations in music therapy). As work advanced on the project and became better known, performances were held at venues around the Berklee community for larger groups with participants placed within drum circles along with the percussionists. Native American drums made with indigenous woods of various types in Wilkes’s collection are used in these recordings. Instrumentation is all-acoustic, and the performances include quiet repetitive and low frequency rhythms with occasional counterpoint from other ambient percussion.
This first recording is in stereo (two channel) with the ultimate goal to produce additional recordings using surround-sound 5.1 mixes to more accurately replicate the experience of participating in the actual performances and therapy sessions. The stereo version is quite effective and Wilkes recommends using either a high quality audio system or headphones to obtain the best sonic results.
Since I have experience with inducing the relaxation response from having practiced self-hypnosis for many years (although not nearly as often as I should!), I can confirm that this stereo recording is quite effective. Often, I found the greatest relaxation being achieved (surprisingly) during the more active rhythm sections. Frequently, I lost a sense of time and either drifted to a deeper meditative state, off to sleep (which is permitted!) or found myself relating visual memories to the sounds during to the interludes (which have field recording excerpts).
The CD has a brief spoken-word introduction mixed with resonant wind chimes. There are three sections (68BPM, Heartbeat I and Heartbeat II) of extended slow muted trance-inducing rhythmic drumming (these will be especially effective if the listener’s sound system also includes a sub-woofer). Interlude is a brief rain shower with thunder, followed by Rolls, a series of building thundering washes (reminiscent of a passing storm). Outdoor sounds (chirping evening insects) return just before Heartbeat I begins.
Heartbeat I builds slowly, first a simple three beats and rest, then a layer of triplets is added to create a pulsing that is later supplemented with what sounds like rain-sticks before diminishing to the straight beat. The last interlude, Chimes Coda passes through with a gentle mix of environmental recordings. The final session, Heartbeat II, reintroduces the foundational three beat and rest pattern, which transforms again into a series of three triplets and a diddle (percussion rudiment term, two struck notes in succession instead of three). Periodically shaken percussion is added. For those who haven’t intentionally tried to induce a relaxation response before, it’s quite an unexpectedly pleasurable and invigorating experience (and can be habit-forming too). It can also improve one’s sense of awareness following a session.
There will be a CD release event and performance at 7PM on April 28, 2015 at The Red Room @ 939, in Boston, Massachusetts located at 939 Boylston Street.
This is a solicited review.
Twigs & Yarn – Still Forms Drift
Eilean Rec 88 CD Time: 40:53
Label: https://eileanrec.bandcamp.com/album/still-forms-drift and http://www.eilean-records.com/
More on Twigs & Yarn: http://www.twigsandyarn.net/
Tracks: Hibernate, Sonora, Channeling, Cave Bears, In the Valley, Lend a Hand, Laelaps, Floes
Lauren McMurray and Stephen Orsak are Twigs & Yarn, and on their previous album (The Language of Flowers, my favorite album of 2012), the duo created it over a great distance (between Japan and Texas). Their work presses all the right buttons for me: it’s inventive, tender, melodic, and at times unexpected. T&Y takes me on a new journey every time I listen, yet there’s an inexplicable familiarity that I find comforting. There is also a curious child-like quality of discovery in the music.
On April 5th, 2015, Twigs & Yarn did a live segment on KOOP Radio in Austin, Texas that was (thankfully) streamed over the internet, and T&Y noted they hope to release another album later in 2015. I will link to the recording of the program if it is posted by KOOP (EDIT: Here is the link to the entire program: https://www.mixcloud.com/fadetoyellow/episode-164-fade-to-yellow-still-forms-drift/).
Over the course of their new album, Still Forms Drift I wonder if there is an intentional arc of how the pieces were developed. I detect that the tracks move from more melodic to experimental, and from rhythmic to more atmospheric and subdued, so there is a nice combination of moods and progression on the album.
A layered sonorous hum opens and eases the listener into Hibernate; sounds eddy between the channels (headphone or speakers). The music builds gradually and blends into a delicate yet immersive fabric where voices and distant cloaked sounds are revealed. Sonora is absolute magic—so romantic, delicately rhythmic, playful and with a hint of some of Raymond Scott’s electronic experiments of the 1950s and 60s. As it progresses, there is increasing comfort, dissolving enmeshed sound, then melodic humming. Exploring the layers, with repeated listens is like a treasure hunt, but then just listen again and disappear into it. It’s like a tender and pleasurable whisper during a dream.
Channeling moves to the outdoors, contemplating with the fauna and environs, then dissolving into a trance of gentle guitar, voices and comforting pulses. Gradually, the reverie subsides and a gentle reality emerges. Cave Bears opens a bit like an antique bell-chime clock, steady and somewhat glitchy. Beats, shifted repeating sounds and guitar harmonics are added and the rhythm slows. In The Valley is another memory of place, although more ambient and disconnected compared to Channeling. There is a slight grittiness to it as it progresses, with sounds that are less tangible, as in the edge of a dream. Lend a Hand is a song with two different parallel veiled spirits; an expression of yearning that moves in and out of focus…one voice moves to the distance, but then returns; as if eavesdropping on a one-sided conversation weaving in and out of gentle waves of guitar and entwined low resonant hums…a slowly rocking boat in the doldrums.
Perhaps the most meditative (and curiously metallic) of the pieces is Laelaps. I speculate that it’s an evening of lying on the ground outdoors with gazes cast to the sky in contemplation. If I have my Greek mythology correct, it was Zeus who cast the dog Laelaps into the stars as Canis Major in pursuit of the Teumessian fox, Canis Minor. With a largo of synthetic electronic sounds and somewhat compressed voices Floes closes the album with hints of a lullaby reminiscent of a well-worn music box.
There is so much wonderful in this album, and I was instantly smitten.
This is a solicited review.
Steve Hackett – Wolflight
Label: InsideOut Music: Two Clear Vinyl LPs (with CD IOMSECD 417)
Time: About 65 minutes with bonus material (Other formats available)
LP 1: Side 1: Out of Body, Wolflight, Love Song to a Vampire; Side 2: The Wheel’s Turning, Corycian Fire, Earthshine, Loving Sea
LP 2: Side 1: Black Thunder, Dust and Dreams, Heart Song; Side 2: (Extra Tracks) Pneuma, Midnight Sun (with Todmobile), Caress (on LP 2, but not the enclosed CD)
Website: http://www.hackettsongs.com/index.html Shop: http://hackettsongs.sandbaghq.com/
After a pair of tremendously successful Genesis Revisited tours in Europe, UK, Japan and the US (with many sold out concerts and shows added due to demand), I’m thrilled that Steve Hackett is back again creating new music. He did the historic material from his Genesis era a worthy justice, clearly an important part of his life (and heck, mine too) and career, and some of that material will always be part of his live shows, but clearly it was time to move on to new things.
I was fortunate to have a chance to hear a preview of Wolflight in Steve Hackett’s studio in the autumn of 2014 and my immediate impression then was that the music is incredibly cinematic—vibrant sound and images in the tales unfolding in the music, whether vocal or instrumental. The music is drawn from experiences, places visited, dreams, nightmares, ancient history and inspired by love. I sense that there is still even a bit of delicately blended (and not yet completely written) autobiographical experiences.
Wolflight is an album of contrasts, from broad filmic passages, some briefly anthemic, to moments of delicate beauty. There is no formula being rehashed from his earlier work, but some elements that are pleasantly familiar are mixed with the inventiveness and varied regional instrumentation that I have come to appreciate in Hackett’s work throughout his oeuvre. Steve’s primary collaborators continue to be keyboardist Roger King and his wife Jo Hackett, along with live show bandmates and production team: Gary O’Toole, Rob Townsend, Nick Beggs, Amanda Lehmann, Benedict Fenner and others.
Out of Body is the eerie wolf-howl call and then energetic overture to the album, a brief taste of what’s to come. Title track, Wolflight opens gently, setting a scene of calm, but the challenges of the tale are expressed in orchestral and sharp-edged guitar solos in contrast with the acoustic twelve-string verses—a powerful title track that has proven to adhere well in my memory, despite the complexity of the piece. In addition to the contrast of sound there is also the irony of subject—that of pleasure in pain and the attraction of potential danger, which is the exploration of Love Song to a Vampire with Hackett’s hushed verses (almost a lullaby), powerful refrains and soulful peregrinations on his Les Paul guitar.
The Wheel’s Turning revisits some of the sights and sounds of works as far back as the album Please Don’t Touch—carnivals of inspiration and a bit of time-travel (with shades of his Squackett collaboration with Chris Squire in the marvelous song from the album A Life Within a Day, Divided Self). At first there’s the basic song then orchestral moves to a devilish romp with a brief homage to The Air Conditioned Nightmare (from the album Cured) and then his album Blues With a Feeling before returning to strains of Bach and the memory of that distant carnival. Creating a strong sense of place, Corycian Fire, after a gentle opening, Hackett uses his highly processed vocals like an instrument to accompany the orchestral, choral and regional instruments in exploring the history of an ancient underworld, which has some similarities to his earlier and less adorned instrumental Steppes (from the album Defector for those who have listened since the early days). Earthshine and Loving Sea are a respite from the album’s vigorous beginnings (an intermission similar to the days of changing a film reel in a theater). Earthshine, a classical guitar fantasy merges into the joyful twelve-string and vocal harmonies of Loving Sea, sailing freely.
Black Thunder rumbles with raw emotion; part history and part social commentary on slavery and civil rights struggles of Martin Luther King with an homage (in the liner notes) to Richie Havens (and his well-known song Freedom) who worked with Hackett on his second solo album. Dust and Dreams is at first a vamp of languid movements and drifting mirages that adds layers and builds to portray scenes of divergent impressions and ultimately it’s resolved in a returning to the comfort of Heart Song, dedicated to Hackett’s wife and creative partner Jo.
The bonus material on side 4 of the LPs (two solo guitar tracks on either side of a collaboration with the Icelandic band Todmobile) fits quite well with the overall album. Pneuma (translates as breath, soul and spirit) is a subdued rumination, a calming re-centering of sorts. Midnight Sun is powerful, melodic and pleasing in its chord structure and rhythms. Caress gently closes the album (which is on the LP, but not the CD).
Despite the sharp contrasts in the instrumentation and sources of inspiration, Wolflight is a very cohesive album, which upon a few listens will become deeply and solidly embedded in the canon of Hackett’s work. The Steve Hackett Band will be celebrating his 40 year solo career with a tour in 2015, Acolyte to Wolflight. I hope to attend a show (but tickets sell quickly!) and I urge readers to get tickets to a show, which will certainly be quite a visual and aural experience, as all of Steve Hackett’s concerts have been since the late 1970s.
Seeing John Edginton’s recent documentary Genesis: Sum of the Parts, one might be left with the impression that after Steve Hackett left Genesis in 1977 he went on to do a few minor projects and then disappeared into the ether. On the contrary, after his highly innovative work with Genesis during the tremendously creative period from 1971 to 1977, Hackett has had a varied and successful solo career of nearly 40 years with as many albums, including some well-known collaborations, songs in international charts (Wolflight is in the UK charts, as I write this), and a faithful legion of fans who are spreading his work to a new generation of listeners.
If anything, Steve Hackett is more vital and relevant than ever with new-found and ever-growing energy that belies the span of his career—continuing to blaze new frontiers in music and live shows.