Lewis & Clarke
Bare Bones and Branches
I can actually play the hipster trump card of saying I was into Nick Drake before that VW commercial made him a Warhol stencil portrait signifying wistfulness, but not by much. A good, much cooler friend the summer before sent me a tape with Nick Drake, Chris Bell and Robert Wyatt on it, called to action by the alarming holes he discovered in my musical fabric, and I have to say, I've haven't been the same since. It opened the world of singer-songwriters, parting the boring i-hate-hippies curtain that punk rock had raised on this genre which, come to find, has a knack for deeper seething and a sharper bite than any pincushion with a record deal out there. It's an infectious thing, soft guitars and atmospheric recording and solo voices rising above quiet storms.
Pennsylvania's Lou Rogai, operating with drummer Thomas Abrams and keyboardist Phillip Price under the Haight-Ashbury-tastic band name Lewis and Clarke, is my new favorite in this number. His warm rasp of a voice on Bare Bones and Branches resting in the thicket of drums and organ playing is a comforting delight to these ears, especially after this spate of avant-garde speed metal that has cross my desk as of late. His guitar intones like a bell at the commencement of the title track as the organ slowly fills the gaps with water, mirroring the repeated lines "You know I will let you in, when you are out of oxygen, blood is running thin" The air gets thicker as the album proceeds, with the busy but hushed drumming helping form the song "Doc Holiday Was a Phony" and the whole band comes together in a jaunt in "Bathtime Blues" a hazy slide-guitar infused dream that continues the breathing-underwater lyrical theme, as does the the doleful "Underwater, Man"
Last year, my favorite song was the strident guitar-n-harmony of The Owl and Pussycat's "Don't Play Me" and before that Iron and Wine's "Up Over The Mountain" so I think this year it may be "Bloody Coat" off this album, with dueling slide guitar, scintillating fingerpicking and some of the kindest percussion to ever back up a singer. Really, the drums are often a deal-killer in this genre, when the producers keep pushing up the volume of the drums to make something a little more "rock" out of a song which has no natural inclination in that direction, and Price's interesting and complimentary drumming on this album are to be commended.
Another beauty on this album is the deft guitar playing and double-tracked vocals and quiet seep of icy keys on "Dead and Gone." Its an shining example of the fact that there is much uncharted territory to explore in this field of music, often-decried of all sounding the same. "Bare Bones and Branches" is a blast of fresh air, just like Gastr Del Soul was when I first heard them, just like Richard Buckner was, hell, like Grateful Dead was when I dropped my pre-existing resistance and listened to American Beauty for the first time with open ears (I will warn you, American Beauty is often a gateway drug into harder Dead usage, which I would not wish on anyone) I'm not saying that any of these artists sound like Lewis and Clarke (OK, maybe Richard Buckner, a little) but its all has the same underlying force to it. This album will get up in your head and curl up with your synapses if you let it in, giving your busy brain that buzz it sorely needs.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com