A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
In reviewing Parakeetfishhead, I am at a disadvantage because I am a long time fan of Brian Cutean (henceforth referred to as "QTN") and as such, I was intimately familiar with these songs before I heard this album. So, it's hard for me to imagine the joy of hearing for the first time, the nostalgic feeling of In The Valley" where "we sit around the fire and tell the tales/of our souls that burn through the night." Patty Peebles' spiritually uplifting tale Little Raccoon made me laugh when I first heard it; "...mama's like a marble/like a marble in the hand/of a mystery that's much too great/for me to understand." Other than Little Raccoon, QTN penned these songs. The play of his words is filled with romantic insights such as in A Small Word:
|"As if the refection of my nearest mirror |
Is too much to bear so I can't even hear or
see the truth. As if I still needed proof"
It was my pleasure to have known Malcolm Smith, the "...gypsy brother/(whose) fingers fly right through the music/In the aching of every longing" in Good Brother, so the vivid imagery of a moon struck fiddler is not new to me. Neither is the feeling of being swept into another dimension for a while as QTN's music does to a listener. Just as Dr. Suess devises parameters for reality that in the telling of the story, you never questioned, QTN does so in many songs. Represented here by Turning into Salt, the story of Alberto Campesino and the Purple Glowbeeza that fell on Enquentabo town, and The Kings of Time, a sort of the Beatniks meet the sensitive songwriters, QTN's music and lyrics are complex and ever unfolding. They are also simple in the tradition of accessible folk music that reminds us of ourselves. His music is filled with lost chords for which no-one else had found the voice. But this was not what I listened to most on this CD, since these songs had already trans-magnified my neural passages.
I listened to the production, recording and arranging, and found some interesting aspects of all three. Transcribing a primarily live body of work to the captured recorded mode is an evolution each of us gets to share with our favorite artists. As with many undiscovered geniuses, QTN has many albums that he hasn't yet set to acetate. This is his third "record" and one he tried to get the sound he wanted by using musicians from Austin, where all but 2 of the songs were recorded at Flashpoint Studios.
The result is a clear studio session sound. At times, however, it only scratches the surface of these deep songs. One recording that does make the plunge is #9-0 Decadance, one of the 2 tunes recorded in Portland. Here, the players (Nancy Tannler and Skip Battin) seem to be taking chances instead of working out the best notes. By including the tunes recorded in Oregon at Fresh Tracks, QTN gives the listener a chance to compare the difference between two fine studios. Immediately following #9-0 Decadeance comes a Flashpoint recording that is primarily QTN and his guitar. The quality of sound here is flawless. It feels more like sitting in the same room with QTN, its as though his singing and playing becomes a part of your existence as you listen. This makes Box-of-Maple Avenue one of my favorite cuts on the album, along with Lightbulbs, a positive twist on the infinite how many so-and-so's does it take to screw in a lightbulb.
Then we come to the most successful Flashpoint ensemble recording, Turning Into Salt. Accompanied by long time side players, Ike Eichenberg, Scott Wade and Mark Williams, this production ebbs and flows with the story without ever losing the dance-dream heartbeat of the song. Gene Elders' otherwise formal sounding violin playing styleturns into downright gypsy playing here.
I don't mean to be too hard on any of the able and talented performers on this album, many of whom put in fine performances (Paul Sweeney on In the Valley, Robert Vignaud on Little Raccoon" and Scott Wade throughout). Marty Jennings, on the violin, does a fine job interpeting one of QTN's guitar instrumentals, Izara, but I can't help wondering why QTN didn't choose an instrumental that highlighted his guitar creations more, such as Old Rye Bread. Likewise, Betty Elders hits all the right notes singing with QTN, but many of these songs cry out for voices upon voices to stretch the harmonic range to the same degree as the songs stretch our imaginations. In short, Parakeetfishhead is a wonderful collection of QTN's mirth, wisdom, and sound while also being an insightful look into the use of studios in a performer's evolving story telling.
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Edited by Paula Gregorowicz