= December 2015 =  
Kitchen Cynics
Zach Madden


(CD available on Les Enfants du Paradiddle ; download available from The Active Listener)

Terrastock veteran Alan Davidson is one of our most prolific artists (this is the 108th release on his own label, but only his first this year!) and he continuously amazes us with the quality of each release – a rare instance of quantity = quality! Common Blue opens with a weepy, “long version” of ‘Clever Sky’ featuring wobbly guitar fx and ominous atmospherics that segue into the title track, a contemplative instrumental, full of eerie effects emulating the life of a lonely sailor, sailing the seven seas listening to whale calls in the distance while a full moon plays hide-and-seek through the clouds. Backwards guitars and delicate, Eastern-flavoured strumming add to the evocative arrangement. [For added appreciation of Davidson’s visual music, check out the artwork of Eric Ravilious. A fan since youth, Davidson was inspired to write the song after attending an exhibition of Ravilious’ artwork in London.]

             A haunting flute figure battles fuzzy warbles and fishing whistles throughout ‘All The Same’, ‘Wee Black Cloud’ is actually quite jolly, and ‘Dr. Guild’ pays tribute to the 17th century theologian who endowed the hospital in Aberdeen where Davidson was born some 325 years later! (Although, if memory serves, Davidson fudges his (own) age a wee bit!) But if you’ve been following Davidson’s career for any of the past 25+ years, you know how important history, particularly his beloved Aberdeen, is to him and how proud he is to feature it throughout his recordings.

             I’d love to know what type of string instruments Davidson features on the short instrumental ‘Tullyfergus’, particularly as the combination of koto-like plucking, hypnotic sitar-styled strumming and other exotic worlds are brought in to your living room via this international guitar summit.

             Davidson ‘Leaves’ with fellow Terrastock 6 veteran PG Six’ and it is a perfect accompaniment to a stroll through the woods on a snowy evening with the setting sun trickling through the trees, particularly when followed by his own ‘Wakeup Dream’ that revels in our revelry. Folks who missed his mashup of Bob Cooney’s ‘Foul Friday’ on last year’s local Fitlike Records Sampler can catch up here. It includes the Aberdeen Communist’s voice sampled around what I believe is Davidson’s, although the dueling proselytising made it a tad difficult to follow the argument. A wee bit of the “bonnie fechter”’s story is available here, and you can find the original on Topic’s 1965 Singing Campbells compilation, making this tribute a nice 50th anniversary commemoration. And if you really want to appreciate how “cover songs” SHOULD be done, try to unravel The Sorrows’ original from what Davidson has done to their classic ‘Take A Heart’. Just brilliant!

             As we head down the homestretch, ‘Sickwyse’ is a forlorn-yet-lovely instrumental tribute to Graham McKenzie with harps, bells, keyboards(!) and other percussive accoutrements creating a sombre, reflective mood. I plead ignorance to the connection between the two and I am almost 100% certain that this is not it, but it’s a whopper of a coincidence!

             Another brilliant release from Mr. Davidson, who simultaneously released the latest from his group project, Matricarians, which we wax poetically about immediately below this...

(Jeff Penczak)



(CD available on Les Enfants du Paradiddle ; download available from The Active Listener)

Alan Davidson’s more experimental side resurfaces on the (at least) 13th release from the Matricarians, who’ve been reduced to the duo of Alan and long time collaborator Susan Matthews since Duncan Hart relocated to Edinburgh and David MacKay lost his battle with leukaemia a few years ago. The latest oozes into the ozone with the ambient ‘Lonely Comma’, which feels like we’re floating in a fish tank watching air bubbles float by. Matthews regales us with ‘Bessie Bell & Mary Gray”, her double-tracked vocals adding an eerie air to an already troubling tale, and the pair’s full regalia of weird and wonderful instruments is trotted out for the title track, an instrumental amalgam of treated piano, bowed bass, phono-fiddle, and assorted circuit-bent toys and singing bowls. Fans of Pete “Sonic Boom” Kember’s Data Rape release (under the Experimental Audio Research banner) should start reaching for their wallets now.

With no disrespect intended (at all), I can listen to Davidson’s own lilting brogue all day long, so another story song (‘The Bonnie Broom Fields’) is a welcome addition to the preceding improvisational instrumentals. But then we jump right back in to the primordial soup with the delightfully-named ‘Naked Under A Siren Suit’ which reminded me of my childhood fantasies of floating through the human body with Raquel Welch in a wetsuit as my guide (cf., Fantastic Voyage).

Chime bars, plucked dulcimer, mriba, ukelin, and Matthews’ elegant voice brings a Shirley Collinsesque aura to the childlike fairy tale, ‘Be Very Still’, and ‘Bridges Gone’ is a flickering navelgazer, aflutter with quiet guitars, circuit-bending brain massages, and other peaceful noises designed to aid in discovering the meaning of the universe written on the inside of your eyelids.
From what I can glean from Internet trawling, the Matricarians prefer performing seated on the floor amongst their toys, picking up the occasional guitar to add a more recognisable sound to their sonic collage. Having just experienced my first taste of Matricarianism, I can jolly well understand their approach. It’s certainly a challenge to remain vertical while these bubbling bleeps, whooshes, and “aaahhhhs” wash over you. The “set guide” for their first live performance (2008 at Aberdeen’s Music Club) is reproduced below and gives you an idea of what to expect, although it’s always best to unexpect the expected and let the Matricarians just happen. You will be richly rewarded. [As far as I can make out, “matricaria” is related to chamomile, a plant well-known for its therapeutic and relaxation-inducing properties. If your chemist is out of it, Rainthinking will more than suffice in easing the day’s stressful annoyances and leave you in a better physical and spiritual place than before you began.]

(Jeff Penczak)





(CD from www.zachmadden.com )

The first thing that strikes you about Zach Madden is that he has good hair. If you’re going to be a wistful singer-songwriter from West Coast USA you ideally need a tangled mane, and Zach completely looks the part. More importantly though, he also sounds right, with a powerful yet intimate voice that pulls the listener in and holds her close whilst simultaneously making her feel safe and ever so slightly daring.

If Graham Nash songs are your bag then Madden’s latest album (I believe there’s been a couple of others, although I confess this is the first I’ve heard of him) will be a treat. Personal favourites are the opening ‘Daybreak Song’, ‘Along the Wire’ which was co-written by guitarist, producer and publicist Byl Carruthers, ‘Redeeming Qualities’ and arguably best of all, ‘Waiting for the Change’, which features a gorgeous acoustic guitar backing set against a haunting song about a relationship on the brink. The fade is a bit cheesy, but imagine it set against the closing credits of a made-for-TV Christmas movie and you’ll be just fine.