This disc does not fit in an exact place or era. The songs makes quantum leaps between time and space, from songs that sound like field hollers from the early part of the last century, others like acid soaked folk from the sixties and some employ drum machines along with banjos and stomping feet for a 21st century hootenanny. It should come as no surprise that Theo has been part of the late era Jackie-o Motherfucker. Like JOMF Theo does not concern himself with genre, era or the mixing of different instruments from disparate traditions.
The album opens what could be a secular hymn. Multiple voices sing “I am going to sing you a song; I hope you can get along, oh lord, safety in my lover’s arms. The only other accompaniment is stomping feet, tambourine and maracas. “Cannonball” is straight up dirty bluegrass, kind of sounding like Bob Log. Many voices hoot and holler while blistering banjo lines flow as a swampy drum beats pound. The vocals sound like they could have been recorded from a dusty 78 that is worn down so much that the vocals have become indecipherable. As the song ends the chaos slows, replaced by docile guitars & whirring synthesizers. “Gonna wanna” could easily pass as that was recorded during the great depression. He uses a vintage mic that makes his vocals crackle and pop wonderfully.
My favorite song on this excellent album is “Born to Burn”; unlike the early songs, this song seems to be channeling not just some distant era but a distance place. Whether it is in the past or the future I am not sure, but it is very far away from here. The song opens up with an organ and Theo singing, “If I had a frozen memory, would I put it in the water and let it be, If had taste of the shining sea…. Would I punch her into drown?, Would I break her little crown? Yeah….” The beauty of the heavenly tones of the music masks the darker message of the song. “Let’s put this race to sleep and wake up in the morning.”
”Price of Prince” has a similar feel of the previous song, a gentle but constant drum beat rides underneath beatific vocal harmonies, shiny acoustic guitars, and what sounds like an accordion, or muted horn. “Thread of Grace” is slightly more forlorn and keening, “Please don’t leave me here whispering in your ears, My bones circle around the sun everyday, my bones still trip when they hear your name.”
Theo’s voice is a chameleon. He can go from sounding like a share cropper blues man from the delta, to that of an acid drenched folky from the sixties. This song is the later. You definitely have to have the right set and setting as the disc progresses. The songs become sparse and slowed down. The pacing of this disc is strange. It starts with a bang and then drifts slowly down sonic rivers.
Just when you are about ready to let yourself get zoned out comes “Sheoust” A chunking drum machine chugs along as folks harmonize. The layers keep coming and coming. If Theo and friends are singing anything in particular it is hard to decipher, but that is not really important. Immediately after the modern day hootenanny it shifts back to the lysergic tinged folk on “Charlie’s Eye.” The last song sounds like it could be a traditional song or hymn. What ever the case it is stunning, and it still touches my heathen heart.
Theo Angell has made diverse and intriguing record. There is not a lot to complain about this record, my only one is pacing and song order, but there is no fault in the songs themselves. Maybe Theo’s intent was to lull you into a relaxed state only to jar you. Some songs sound like they are from 100 years ago, while others feel more like just from 40 years ago. Then there are the songs that could like hillbillies who were taken up by the mother ship and dropped down in some future land where they meld their tradition with a new environment. This album is one of stark beauty of deep & diverse depth.
(Amish Records) (Dan Cohoon)
(Amish Records) (Dan Cohoon)