= December 2019 =  
 The Greek Theatre
 Dodson & Fogg
 The Green Ray
 Mighty Baby
 Joan Shelley
 Malcolm Morley
 Cass McCombs





Sweden's duo The Greek Theatre have graced the ears of 2019 with a truly stunning new album. The instrumental "Twin Larks" starts things off with swirling sounds which yield to a wonderful acoustic guitar introduction that is accompanied by a delicate and beautiful flute piece, setting the stage for what is yet to come. "Laurence of Laurel Canyon" wastes no time getting down to business and is pure Greek Theatre with a dizzying array of textures, reminding us that Forever is indeed still Changing. The guitars and keyboards mesh perfectly and you quickly realize this is a very special record with top-notch musicianship. The song cleverly transitions into "The Post-Factual Jam" as we hear the band unleash a feedback-drenched psychedelic workout that is a most pleasant surprise, delivering on Laurence's earlier promise of blue cheer and purple haze. Switching the polarity, "Old Jawbone" opens with a gorgeous flute that is paired with the signature acoustic guitar magic that we know and love this beloved outfit for, all framed with a wonderful string arrangement.

"Bible Black Mare", the album's centerpiece, is a truly majestic offering which captures that rare vibe that was so prominent throughout David Crosby's solo masterpiece, "If Only I Could Remember My Name". Time ceases to exist and the listener is transported to an entirely different state. This track alone practically contains an entire album's worth of music. It is up to the listener to mine all the riches that have been carefully hidden between the notes. "Open Window" proudly displays the quintessential Greek Theatre sound. I can only assume that the lyric "broken circle" is a clever reference to their excellent sophomore long player. "The Streets You Hold" features some of the loveliest harmony vocals that you are likely to find anywhere, along with plenty of sublime, jangling 12-string guitar that brings to mind the very best moments of Roger McGuinn and The Byrds. "The Cabooze" is another instrumental piece, so cinematic that it would fit perfectly as a soundtrack to a film - a film that I would love to get lost in. It effortlessly fades into "A Different Place", which evolves into a mind-blowing guitar jam - a dream from which we are awoken. Was it a dream?

No, ladies and gentlemen, we are not floating in space. Rather, the haunting "Sail Away (Part Two)" reminds us that we are still "lost at sea", where this strange and magical journey all began, not drifting in the firmament, rather looking up at it, with the sun shining warmly on our faces in the daytime, but with the "nights getting cold" as the seasons change. They've managed to accomplish the near-impossible. That is to say, they've raised the already high bar that their relatively short career has already set. This, my friends, is a bona fide masterpiece.

Watch for this limited release on the excellent Sugarbush Records label.

(Kent Whirlow)


(LP/Digital on Gurugurubrain Records)

Tokyo’s heavy psych trio Dhidalah started back in 2007 and, building on recent successes, bring us their long-awaited debut album Threshold, courtesy of the seemingly infallible Guruguru Brain.  By all measures, it’s worth the wait.  Following 2017’s excellent No Water EP, the band expand their brand of instrumental stoner doom to the long player.  Dhidalah are Ikuma Kawabe (guitars), Kazuhira Gotoh (bass, vocals, synthesisers and “noise,” of which there is plenty), and drummer Konstantin Miyazaki.

Taking their name from a centuries old mythological being called a Daidarabotchi, whose footprints were so enormous it was said to have created countless lakes and ponds, Dhidalah bring the same sense of massive scale and force to their sound.  The album’s about the evolution of the human race and the beginning of the universe, according to Gotoh.  While it’s up to you whether you pick that up from listening, you can’t fail to be impacted by their massive sound.

The album literally begins with a crash of explosive thunder, announcing Dhidalah’s unmistakable arrival.  This leads into the krautrock-influenced “Neuer Typ.”  The pounding beat is punctuated by Ikuma Kawabe’s soaring and searing guitar work.  The three band members pack a whole lot of sound, adding distant voices and dark atmospherics to the basic trio of instruments.

“Adamski” is all molten sludge, with all three pounding away mercilessly at your brain as if their life and yours depended on it.  Dhidalah lets you catch a momentary breather while they take a starship tootling around the cosmos, before resuming the massive assault.  These guys play for blood.

Lengthy side two opener “Jovian Sky” comes in with some nice Mellotron, adding a little bit of color.  This is inevitably overtaken by more onslaught, with Kawabe’s guitar playing just relentless.  The Mellotron and effects occasionally weave back in and out, always overtaken by Dhidalah’s crushing punch-press attack.  I wondered how Miyazaki had any arms or drumsticks left afterwards.

Finally, “A.U.M.” starts off with a snare sounding like a high-powered rifle shot, which Miyazaki repeats to great effect.  “A.U.M.” is slightly Sabbath-like, with Kawabe displaying some Iommi-type techniques.  After some distant vocal chants from Gotoh and a bruising middle section, Dhidalah lift off for a high-spirited less-heavy jam, all three firing on all cylinders and featuring some of Kawabe’s finest guitar work, before crashing back to Earth for the finale.

Dhidalah forge a punishing, take-no-prisoners approach, heavy psych without sweeteners or Miss Manners’ etiquette.  If you like some adrenaline to pick up your day, don’t miss it.

 (Mark Feingold)




(Released on Wisdom Twin)

Chris Wade wraps up another prolific year with his third release under his Dodson and Fogg alter ego, bringing his output to nearly two dozen releases since his eponymous 2013 debut, about which we exclaimed, “A fine album that will remind you of the joy of living!" As with other recent releases, Wade plays everything, but it’s his double-tracked guitar interplay that once again amazes. ‘Blue Skies’ is another thousand yard stare into cloud formations, bird flight patterns, and solar/lunar celestial interplay, all woven around crystalline electric guitar solos weaving around a steady acoustic backing.

     The western-tinged singalong ‘Let Us Be’ is campfire fodder for the masses, while ‘In The Moment’ is a lovely, intimate picture of a romantic interlude with the one you love. A musical Valentine card, if you will, as is the dreamy ballad, ‘She Is My World’. A jaunty ‘How Long’ has a Hot Tuna-meets-Rockpile groove with a touch of Bolan’s boogie for good measure, and the funky ‘Coming Down Sideways’ evinces a bluesy swagger that Wade has been successfully exploring of late. Tasty fingerpicking and a Booker T-styled organ ride highlight the hard-driving instro, ‘The Lost Cyclist’ and we wrap with the epic seven-and-a-half minute instrumental workout ‘The Garden’, a languid stroll through a forest of tweeting birds with a pleasant reminder of Roger Waters’ ‘Grantchester Meadows’ occasionally tickling the memory banks. There’s also a bit of a gypsy groove provided by Wade’s dancing mandolin (?) that sets the toes a-tapping and the heart a-fluttering. Another excellent entry in a distinguished discography that continues to exceed expectations.

(Jeff Penczak)




(Caedmon’s Return 002)

Christian folk rock band reconvene for their third album in 41 years. Their debut album is a bit of a Holy Grail; its value has risen over the ensuing years to become one of the most sought after albums in the acid folk genre. Self released in 1978, it showed an assured band and the surprise is that they never made a follow up until 2010; there is currently one of these originals online with an eye watering price of £1500! I managed to find a copy of a reissue a few years back on the Acme label for a tenner and I was surprised by how great the band sound; the songs were also very good with fine soaring female vocals and lashings of lead guitar.

For this new album we have 7 recent tracks and five tracks dating from 1975, plus a bonus of another live track recorded in 1978.  The band comprises of Ken Patterson - cello, keyboards, guitar and brass. James Bisset - lead guitar. Angela Webb - vocals. Simon Jaquet - mandolins, percussion and guitar, plus Simon Wilson - bass and guitar. With guest artists Caroline Brown, and Sally Jaquet, contributing a few extra vocals. Have the ensuing years been kind to them? Well yes is the answer, this new album is pretty good indeed.

Opening with a lengthy eight and a half minute gem, based on a 7th century fantasy in the form of ‘Dream Of The Rood’. Angela took some coaxing to participate in this new album and it's Caroline who tkes the initial lead vocals which reveals her slightly deeper tones, the song is an excellent one, it’s quite proggy too, with some terrific octave mandolin, deep cello tones and some fluid lead guitar breaks. ‘Go’, has a nice feel; it’s firmly in the funk/folk area, acoustic with some nice percussion. ‘Sky Song’ is a sister song to their most popular song ‘Sea Song’ and shows an older more reflective side to them, in a 6/8 time signature; ostensibly about a mother goose, it even ends with the arresting sounds of honking geese.

‘Runaway’, follows this with a folk rock song loosely based on Jonah and the Whale, enlivened by Sam’s supple bass playing. ‘Mustard Seed’ is a short song in the renaissance style, based on the mustard seed parable. ‘Rare’ the title track, has a mellow spiritual vibe with Sam Wilson’s voice caressing the ears. The mandolin, ‘cello, keyboard, fugal horn, bass and acoustic guitars ease us along through a folk ballad, a story. It’s the tale of a one-off 1978 album being duplicated, then re-released, pirated and becoming a collectors’ ‘Grail’. It’s an allegorical tale following a potter at the wheel which keeps on turning. ’Peace’, is a gentle hymnal, which has some beautiful cello lines and a terrific guitar figure by James.

Ken provided me with the following background on the unearthed 1975 tracks, which were recorded in The Netherbow Studio, in Edinburgh. “A digitising firm provided us with a USB stick of these long buried tracks at best quality and we were left with six usable tracks with sufficient integrity for us to re-master and put on the new record. The selection of songs all feature lyrics from other writers with music composed arranged by members of the band. Five are from a studio session in 1975, when the band was just consolidating its particular feel and sound. Only the studio version of fans’ favourite ‘London Psalm’ is driven by searing electric guitar. It juxtaposes with a 13/8 time signature sawn out on distorted ‘cello and acoustic guitar”.

‘London Psalm’, introduces these 1975 mono studio recordings, recordings which showcase Angela’s beautiful soaring vocals and James’s searing lead electric guitar and make me feel all nostalgic for an early 70’s London, the writer of poem London Psalm has so far to date not been traced, Sam composed the music. ‘Death Knot’ was written by Lance Stone who is a friend of the band, it’s firmly in the folk rock vein. ‘God Is Love’ is a traditional hymn lashed to a folk rock beat. ‘Born To Die’, this one sees them firmly in Pentangle mode, invested with some lovely harmonics and mandolin. ‘Tears May Linger’ is an up-tempo Psalm written by Simon Jaquet and exists nowhere else but here on these recordings. The album ends with the live 1978 recording of ‘Now The Green Blade Riseth’ a traditional Easter song with some lovely deep ‘cello guitar, recorder, guitar and bass, again no other Caedmon recorded version exists. There is also a hidden track ‘Heaven Haven', a snippet of a Gerard Manley Hopkin verse for solo voice and guitar. 

This is a wonderful return for the band and I hope that they can return to the studio again fairly soon. Available from December the 23rd and distributed by Guerssen Records www.guerssen.com

(Andrew Young)





www.sugarbushrecords.com vinyl 300 copies

The Green Ray swiftly follow up 2017’s excellent Half Sentences with another gem, also on the same label. The band currently comprises of Simon Whaley - lead guitar, bottleneck, acoustic. Martin James Gee - vocals, electric and acoustic guitar. Mark Cullum – drums. Dave Mackenzie - bass.  Along with backing vocalists Wayne Worrell and Duncan Kerr on a couple of tracks plus Jeff Gibbs and Howard Plug Davies on bass and drums, for a couple of tracks. It was recorded at Antform studios.

Things kick off with ‘Sangsara Shanty’, a loping tune which is slow to coalesce, like some workingman’s dead out take, the acoustic guitars ring and the drum and bass anchor the tune, it has some fine wah wah guitar fills too, fading out to the sound of gently lapping waves. ‘On A Sixpence’, the next song continues in the same vein, a proper song with some lovely snaking fluid lead guitars. ‘Small Springs’ follows and is written by Ken Whaley it’s expansive, with Quicksilver flashes from the guitar, I’m reminded of ‘What About Me’ but without Dino’s histrionics, it’s taken at a similar pace too, all darting lead guitar runs and a sympathetic rhythm section kicking things along.

Side two begins with ‘Clouds Away Tomorrow’,  this one is a little more up-tempo, a touch of later period Byrds, there are nice harmonies, Martin has an unforced and relaxed style of singing which serves these songs well, some nice twin guitar intertwining throughout, very nice. ‘Before The Fall’, this starts with a little bird song, before a guitar figure appears that sounds so familiar but I just can’t seem to place it, the guitars really sound fabulous on this track, so good.  It’s an excellent song and one of my favourites, elemental in nature. The album’s title track ‘Five Points Of Light’, is lent a swampy vibe, mainly due to the bottleneck acoustic guitar, it’s a little more acoustic too. This sets things up nicely for final track ‘Close (To Afar)’, my favourite on the album, what a great song, the band being able to really stretch out, some blistering lead guitar and a cooking rhythm section with a great wig out at the end, fans of Help Yourself, Man and Quicksilver form an orderly queue.

(Andrew Young)




(6CD box set released on Grapefruit )

What we have here is nothing less than the holy grail for Mighty Baby completists: six CDs comprising both studio albums (with acetate/demos of most tracks), non-LP singles, demos for a potential (unreleased) third album (actually recorded between the two “officially released” albums), plus two full CDs of live performances, including previously unreleased recordings from their legendary 1971 Glastonbury appearance, highlighted by their complete 36-minute version of John Coltrane’s ‘India’ (aka ‘A Blanket In My Muesli’). WOW! The booklet includes co-compiler David Wells’ 30-page, 12,000 word essay which details the recording sessions (supported by material from the Action biography In The Lap Of The Mods, keyboardist Ian Whiteman’s unpublished autobiography The Average Whiteman and Ptolemaic Terrascope’s own 1995 interview with Martin Stone), as well as numerous period photographs and adverts to complete the picture.

     Disc One pairs their eponymous 1969 Head debut with a previously unissued acetate featuring occasionally significantly different versions (lyrics, song length, mix) of most tracks. Two exceptions (mono versions of ‘Egyptian Tomb’ c/w ‘I’m From The Country’) were coincidentally released as a single which was only issued by Philips in France (and are included on Disc Three). To make room for ‘I’m From The Country’ and the track that gives this box set its title (a dreamy navel gazer featuring what may be the band’s finest CSNY-styled harmonies), two other acetate recordings were dropped from the final track listing. Both the heavy-lidded ‘Ancient Traveller’ and the revved-up, Freakbeaty ‘Messages’ would have been worthy additions to the finished product, but guitarist Martin Stone conjectures it was not the band’s decision to omit them and they may have been victims of the album’s overall running time.

     Major differences on the acetate include the absence of the de riguere phased vocals and drums that were added to the released version of ‘A Friend You Know But Never See’; the country blues and honky tonking ‘I’ve Been Down So Long’ (title seemingly inspired by Richard Fariña’s semi-autobiographical novel) is over a minute longer, slightly slower and all the better to enjoy Martin Stone’s blistering soloing; some lyrics were also modified before the final mix; ‘Same Way From The Sun’ also employs different lyrics and is likewise about a minute longer than the released version. Again, Stone’s finger-bleeding solo is a highlight, although the curious dead-in-the-tracks drop off halfway through still gives the coda an anti-climactic vibe (as if added from a different session!) In its favour, the acetate version eliminates the few seconds of silence that probably had the heads of the day thinking the song had ended! Personal favourite ‘House Without Windows’ is also a bit rawer and the chugging, bluesy boogie ‘Trials Of A City’ also includes lyrics that were modified in the final product. While most of these changes may appeal primarily to completists (as, of course will an entire box set of material from a band that only released two proper albums), the extended jams and different mixes will find favour with all fans of top shelf ‘60s psychedelia. And more bonus points to Grapefruit for replicating the stunning gatefold sleeve!

     Disk Two features the second (released) album, Jug Of Love, a more countrified set which brings their Grateful Dead comparisons to the fore (the title track and ‘Slipstreams’ could easily have set on Garcia’s contemporary solo debut), although I also hear a lot of similarities to contemporary British country rock albums by the likes of Brinsley Schwarz, Plainsong, and Help Yourself. The songs are looser (Stone confesses that the debut was “poppier”), the jams more organic, heavy-lidded, and laid back, and the performances more assured. Most tracks top six minutes (several approach ten), with Stone’s tasty licks on the languid ‘Happiest Man In The Carnival’, their own ‘Keep On Truckin’ (‘Keep On Juggin’!), and the dreamy ‘Virgin Spring’ among the many highlights. An alternate version of the latter (released as the flip to non-album single ‘Devil’s Whisper’ – think New Riders-meet-CSNY) is a revelation – a crisper production highlighted by Ian Whiteman’s classical piano touches, Stone’s arpeggio guitar runs, and a more upbeat vibe create an entirely different, albeit 2½-minutes shorter artifact.

     Most of Jug of Love was rehearsed in a friend’s basement and instrumental excerpts make up most of Disk Three. The title track is highlighted by Stone’s exploratory runs that differ significantly from the final product and aside from similar loose jams, the rehearsal quality is mostly for completists and musicologists interested in listening to the songs in their embryonic stages.

     Returning to Disk Two, the band’s transition from cult Mods The Action to “the English Grateful Dead” with a taste for pot and LSD is documented by five 1968 demos previously released and attributed to The Action on the “Action Speaks Louder Than” EP. Admittedly rough ideas and not intended for release in their current format, they bear neither the quality nor style of either band and are mostly of archival interest only, although ‘Dustbin of Rubbish’ surprisingly presages Ride 20 years early, ‘My Favourite Day’ sounds like Whiteman exorcising his Rick Wright daemons, a la the latter’s similar ‘Remember A Day’ contribution to A Saucerful of Secrets, and ‘A Saying For Today’ is Floyd gone Freakbeat!

     Disk Four presents demos for a proposed second album (Day Of The Soup) that fell by the wayside when their label owner was busted and the band found themselves without a label, manager or booking agency. Besides the decidedly proggy ‘Winter Passes’ (featuring rare female vocals from American duo Emily Muff (Kathy Bushnell and Janet Dourif, actor Brad’s first wife), we’re left with essentially another 35-minute-plus instrumental jam riffing on Coltrane’s ‘India’ (nominally divided into the four-part ‘Now You Don’t’, an answer title to the 15-minute instrumental jam ‘Now You See It’ that features on the three-song excerpt from their March 1970 Lanchester University gig. This may be the best synthesis of their live gigs captured in the studio (compare it with their monumental live treatments at Malvern Winter Gardens in February ’71 on Disk Five and Glastonbury four months later on Disk Six) and is yet another reason that the present box will appeal to more than just diehard fans, completists, and collectors. This is some of the finest psychedelicised music from the dawn of the ‘70s performed by any band at the time.

     Disks Five and Six highlight the live Mighty Baby experience, which like many bands of the era, was possibly the best way to experience them. Disk Five features the February 1971 Malvern Winter Gardens gig, highlighted by the aforementioned 22-minute ‘India’, an early version of ‘Trials Of A City’ with different lyrics called ‘Woe Is Me’ and ‘Goin’ Down To Mongoli’, which previously appeared in their earlier Lanchester set on Disk Four under the embryonic title ‘Sweet Mandarin’.

     Disk Six may be the box highlight, particularly for fans who have already purchased the expanded albums and bonus live material previously available through Richard Morton Jack’s numerous archival releases on his Sunbeam label. The band’s 1971 Glastonbury performance has been whispered about in hushed reverential tones for nearly half a century, with only a severely edited rendition of John Coltrane’s aforementioned ‘India’ (essentially less than half of the 30+ minute jam) and their chugging blues workout on Gram Parsons’ ‘Lazy Days’ that evinces more of a Canned Heat than Grateful Dead influence having thought to survive. But here for the first time, we can experience full versions of a half dozen more performances, including ‘Keep On Juggin’ [actually appended to the end of Disk Five], a dreamier-than-usual ‘Virgin Spring’ introduced as “a really slow song”, ‘Trials Of A City’ [still titled ‘Woe Is Me’ and introduced as “a number for anyone that’s straight”!], and the complete 37-minute ‘India’, which may have lost some of its lustre having appeared earlier in the box, but is still the mindblowing masterpiece it was always rumoured to be.

     The cassette source tapes have been noticeably baked for maximum enjoyment and minimum wobble, and the sounds of fans sharing joints and other enhancements audible adds to the heady ambience and putting right along the stage with them.

     So, six CDs, sixty tracks and nearly seven hours of music is probably a bit much for one sitting and is certainly geared for super fans interested in hearing everything the band has recorded under the Mighty Baby moniker. But the package is incredibly detailed, full of period adverts, press clippings, and photos, the sound quality is stellar throughout (considering the age of the tapes), and fans coming at it with any apprehensions can be assured they’re definitely getting their money’s worth.

(Jeff Penczak)




(LP/CD/Digital on No Quarter)


Like the River Loves the Sea is Louisville, Kentucky folk artist Joan Shelley’s latest offering.  In many ways, Shelley brings us a shelter from the big, bad world around us, a warm, calm oasis where you’re among loved ones, so kick off your shoes, throw a log on the fire, and cuddle up with a glass of wine.


Shelley has, not just a beautiful voice, but rather a voice that she sings beautifully with, if that minor distinction makes any sense.  Perhaps it will after a listen.  And it’s easy with that voice to overlook her fine guitar playing, but yes, she is also a talented guitarist.  For the album, she has built a small, but all-conquering team, consisting of frequent acoustic guitar collaborator and fellow Kentuckian Nathan Salsburg, and co-producer and multi-instrumentalist James Elkington (who also produced Steve Gunn’s The Unseen in Between, another album I dearly loved in 2019).  Shelley wrote all the songs.  The melodies are all amazingly lovely, and Elkington’s arrangements, all soft and glowing, whether they be bare acoustic guitars, light strings, harmonium, etc., are all spot-on.  It’s a less-is-more approach that works perfectly every time.


The album was recorded near Reykjavik, Iceland with all aboard.  Local sisters Sigrun Kristbjorg Jonsdottir and Pordis Gerour Jonsdottir contributed violins, viola and cello, while Albert Finnbogason contributed Wurlitzer.  The cover art by Kevin Earl Taylor looks like a bucolic Icelandic scene.  Joan tells a funny story about how, for the gorgeous, majestic “Coming Down For You,” she wanted a banjo, which she also is known to play.  The crew had brought all their guitars, but nobody thought to bring a banjo, and lo, there was nary a banjo to be found in all of Iceland.  So the clawhammer sound you hear on the acoustic guitar on the finished piece is Shelley playing the guitar as she would’ve played it on banjo.


But make no mistake, this is a Kentucky affair, with pretty songs that regale us of comforting pastoral scenes and a love for her home.  And you can sense the source of the “river,” from whence all these lovely green songs came, the ancestral hills, fields and streams of England and Ireland.


Joan brings along singers Cheyenne Mize and Julia Purcell from her previous singing group Maiden Radio to sing harmony on three tracks.  But the album’s finest moments bar none are her collaborations with another fellow Kentuckian Bonnie “Prince” Billy, aka Will Oldham, who sings with her on two little aching masterpieces, the aforementioned “Coming Down For You” and “The Fading.”  Oldham’s accompanying vocals are so subtly brilliant; he sings in a slight stutter-step from Shelley, giving daylight and breathing space from her voice, not unlike Rick Danko, Levon Helm and Richard Manuel did in The Band’s classic songs.  In “The Fading,” Shelley packs so much in a verse, including perhaps a nod to climate change “And old Kentucky stays in my mind/it’s sweet to be five years behind/That’s where I’ll be when the seas rise/holding my dear friends and drinking wine/When it breaks down/Oh babe let’s try/to see the beauty in all the fading.”


If I have a slight nit to pick, it’s with the subject matter for most of the album being overwhelmingly about love and romance.  Perhaps we unfairly expect folk artists to write more meaningful lyrics above all other music styles, but a seasoned veteran folk artist should be able to come up with more to sing about than that, although Shelley at least gives the romantic treatments nuance and poetic style.


Like the River Loves the Sea is a beautiful work from start to finish.  As our hard times just seem to get harder, Joan Shelley combines her flair for melody, her unforgettable voice and James Elkington’s tasteful, understated, letter-perfect production to be the ideal soothing we all need.


(Mark Feingold)




(CD on the Aurora label)

Well, what have we here?  The latest material to be released by the Enigmatic Enigma that goes by the name of Malcolm Morley that’s what.  For those of us long in the thrall of his talent these moments become more treasured as the years pass for us all.

This release is his first full length release of new material for some 18 years from ‘Aliens’.  Style wise it’s pretty close to the material he released under the vinyl 10" single ‘Raw’ in 2014.  For those who saw him live preceding that release they would have enjoyed the Morley originals of ‘Summerlands’ and ‘Where The River Bends’.  They were recorded in an acoustic setting but this new release comes with a fuller sound with some excellent playing as regards both guitar and organ.  For anyone needing some reference points I can but best suggest this release reflects a mature artist giving nine originals and one cover, all wrapped up in a style that has an easy-going confidence – besides the music there are some great lyrics – not so much songs as narrative tales.

In an attempt to embrace any potential new recruits to those of us long and loyal in the tooth – if you like JJ Cale, Michael Chapman, Springsteen when he’s not in rock mode, but most of all I found myself thinking Bob Weir with his excellent ‘Blue Mountain’ as comparable musical bedfellows.  Malcolm’s voice now bears a rich smoky timbre and the imagery in his lyrics carries a certain world weariness of the experiences of life.

As for the tracks themselves, proceedings open up with ‘To Evangeline’ – a mid paced effort with the aforementioned organ nicely to the fore.  The couplet regarding the woman and the babe on the bridge is nothing short of brilliant by my book.  It almost has the feel of being from the lineage of ‘Paper Leaves’ – one of the early Morley classics that still sounds so good today.  Next up is ‘Forgotten Land’, and this has a feel about it not a million miles from Tony Joe White – we tend not to have too many swamps in the UK, maybe we could settle for some fertile moist woodlands with a moody groove.

‘A Walk On The Water’ carries some great biblical imagery in its lyrics.  ‘What Hurts’ has a JJ Cale swing and growl to it.  The only cover here is ‘Two Brothers’ and is an American Civil War tale – anybody else remember the early 60s TV series ‘The Americans’ – the Clanfield family where Jeff joined the Confederates and his brother Ben the Unionists ?  You’ll be impressed by Malcolm’s acoustic picking.  ‘Broken’, as with ‘All Washed Up’, the mood belies what the title may lead you to suppose.  Not for the first time, you will find the lyrics intriguing in their imagery. Some lovely organ breaks courtesy of Daisy Rollins.

‘Must Be The Devil In Me’ – sounds as though it could be an old Blues Standard. The title track, ‘Infinity Lake’ comes across as perhaps the most perfect piece among those on offer here – the understated music allows the lyrics to bite and hit.  ‘All Washed Up’, although hardly a joyous sentiment, the track kicks along with another set of quality lyrics.  Matters conclude with ‘Rambling Boy’ and its tone is perhaps the closest to that which Malcolm put to such good effect on the previously cited ‘Summerlands’. There is a magical air to its rural purity and imagery.

Malcolm has certainly rediscovered his love of the electric guitar, mind you, his acoustic picking remains atmospheric and full of character as backing to the tales he recounts.  These narratives are close to be conversation pieces at times – he uses some familiar turns of phrase that are maybe not the common garden prose.  We can but hope that this release garners some sympathetic reviews and good few more wake up to a man who has been plying his trade for 50 years.  I’m not talking “chart action” but just a healthy return sales-wise for the quality of the material on display here.  A final wish – may there be more to come from the Enigmatic Enigma when the muse deigns to pay him further visits.

(Richard Gould)    




(LP/CD/Digital on Epitaph)


On Cass McCombs’ ninth studio outing, the singer-songwriter brings his frequent West Coast laid back sound, enigmatic lyrics and some experimentation in the back half.  McCombs is coming up on 20 years making records, and he’s not out to prove anything this time out or make bold statements.


The first half of the nearly hour-long album is bathed in cosmic folk and a Dead-like sensibility that goes down real easy.  I’m also hearing some of Kurt Vile’s quiet, reflective art, and some buried Jackson Browne Laurel Canyonesque vibes.  Opener “I Followed the River South to What” is built around a single 7th chord, very much like the one in the break in The Who’s “Bargain,” but is not a drone in the broad sense.  It unfolds into a Terrapin Station-like jam, with McCombs taking on the Garcia licks.  The more rocking “The Great Pixley Train Robbery” is a narrative about an actual 1800s heist.  “Estrella” is a very appealing guitar-centered track in a song form McCombs has tackled before.  A tribute to late Mexican artist Juan Gabriel, “Estrella” teams McCombs’ smooth guitar work with bass from Dan Horne, who played with McCombs in The Skiffle Players and also earned his Dead-inspired chops in Circles Around the Sun.


“Real Life” is another sweet-sounding mellow groover, with acoustic guitar, piano, and hand percussion, which turns on a dime late in the song, ups the tempo and ends in a laid-back jam.  Like much of McCombs’ work, the smooth sound belies depressing, often inscrutable lyrics.


The album’s second half is somewhat less accessible, indie rock sometimes taking on the feel of 80s or 90s work by Bruce Cockburn or Lou Reed, and the lyrics get a bit darker.  “Prayer for Another Day” breaks that up somewhat, with McCombs sounding like he’s lying happily in a hammock on a sunny day riffing lazily on two chords and doodling on his guitar.  “American Canyon Sutra” is a total departure, sliding somewhere between rap and beat poetry, with McCombs musing on the decay of the American dream, with Wal-Mart culture taking over, the stores, the employees, and even small dwellings for them to live in “like coffins.”  “Tying Up Loose Ends” could be a lost Dire Straits track, with McCombs going through some old family photographs and wondering who all these distant strangers are.  The ten minute “Rounder” er, rounds out the album, and, after starting out cosmic country, returns to the Dead-type jamming which opened the album, including some nice Fender Rhodes work by Frank LoCrasto (Okkervil River, Parquet Courts).


There you have it.  Tip of the Sphere will appeal to West Coast sound fans (even if it was recorded in Brooklyn).  If you made a letter “C” with your hand, your hand and outstretched fingers would represent the breezy, endorphin-releasing portion, and proportion, while the empty space would be the hard-shelled remainder within.  Happy Holidays to all.


(Mark Feingold)