Whoever decided to document this testament to dark genius live in the studio, rather than through endless clinical soundboard tweaks and filters, should be given an award of some kind. Mark Growden possesses the same raw passion and fury seen in Van Morrison, Tom Waits, and Old Red (here) but also the compositional finesse of Chris Rea, Robert Wyatt, and The Woes (here). Submitting this wondrously unsettling disc to the cleansing ablutions of any technical OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) knobs & pan pot meister would've cut the spine out of his eloquent anger, intensity, and spontaneity. Then, of course, there's the gent's aggregate of unholy cohorts, grinning demons sporting baffling halos.
This isn't a CD as such but rather a cabaret of the rings of a very humanized hell located somewhere in the boggy depths of the deep South, not Birmingham, not New Orleans, not Atlanta but the shadowy bastard offspring of them all, progeny of a mephitic tryst none dare acknowledge. Having wandered away to glower and fume, sonic purgatory waits impatiently as a destination of the soul and mind is arrived at through ears and nerves. Growden not only sings but wields an accordion, baritone sax, and banjo; his band sits behind cornet, lapsteel, cello, flugelhorn, organ, and then the expected guitar, bass, and percussion, everything twisted in the same slippery but insanely progressive mold, a Dantean vision conducted by Faust.
Portions of this tour of the crimson one's back alleys are lunatic flusters of squawking horns, seductively elastic steel gee-tar, drunken grace, and sloppily ingenious mad rambles. Then come the restrained sections, oases of seeming calm, as in the riveting take on Leonard Cohen's I'm Your Man, all the more unnerving in tensions of contrast. The rest dwell somewhere in the indefinable middle. Nor does Growden spare the listener: half the songs are lengthy extrapolations (note the times below) of corners of the psyche we'd prefer to quickly sidestep. Too late! You'll have no choice but to wallow and revel like a devotee in a psychological Black Mass. Listen to merely a minute of this masterpiece, and you're as helpless as bird before snake, fascinated, terrified, seduced. After that, there's only surrender, and if you later find your eyes taking on a scarlet glow, don't blame me, I tried to warn ya, but…welcome to the club. Leave any remnant sanity at the door while adjusting cravat and cufflinks.
Oh, and Growden also plays, I ain't kiddin' here, a set of handlebars as though he were a zen acolyte on a metalline shakuhachi…and maybe he is. You have to hear Handlebar Improvisation to believe it. There occur overtones and slurs I've never heard on any other wind instruments, and, somewhere in a sacred grave, Harry Partch is smiling beatifically.
[Editor's Note: Check out videos of Mark Growden performing here.]
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles