Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life started out as a well-received book by authoress Wendy Mass, a long pensée about exactly that: a teen-ager discovering what life is. This year, 2011, the movie version with Mira Sorvino and Joe Pantoliano issued, and Booka Michel was chosen to score the music. This CD is the exemplary result, an almost-completely instrumental grand tour of a blend of styles basing itself in updated takes on all the usual root modes and even an "acid Western" approach, a kind of Sergio Leone-esque environmental twang finding many affinities with the Grateful Dead, Kaleidoscope, and others past and present.
Michel has worked with an impressive back roster of biggies (Hoyt Axton, Townes an Zandt, Osdetta, Pete Seeger, etc.), and the separate Geckos have sat in with Dylan, Van Morrison, Asleep at the Wheel, Lloyd Maines, and others. Thus, you'll expect a lot from this effort and will be richly rewarded for precisely that hope. Abundant throughout is an ineffable beauty the mode has reached in the modern, middle, and archaic periods: 'modern' in the sense that everything Michel touches gains present-day resonance despite antecedent origins, 'middle' because he favors rusticity regardless, and 'archaic' through the influences of world musics in cuts like Heaven's Light, a tune capturing Byzantine echoes quite nicely.
The lyricism of Meaningful is pictorial, more so than such ventures tend to be. This, I hazard to guess, is not just due to the filmic reflection any score must possess but also because Michel is completely engrossed in the sinew and ambiance of times past while musing and crafting from a rocket age cognizant of the sound necessary to times gone by, careful not to lose its form and essence while improvising. Interestingly, Michel's a percussionist in the fullest sense (meaning: he even includes piano in his armada) but recruited nothing but strings-players for accompaniment, both in the Geckos and in the session musicians. No horns, no organ, no fancy schmancy doo-dads, just strings, and you won't even notice the absence of all the other instrumentation until you peruse the liner notes, and it suddenly hits you that this is indeed the case.
Meaningful Songs breathes Americana but also reflects the country's melting pot underpinnings, doing so with an oft breezily knowing touch, melodious, mellifluous, and marvelous in its rich palette of shades and hues, as urban as it is rustic. In that, it joins many recent top-notch efforts in what's frequently called 'progressive' (progressive bluegrass, progressive country, etc.) but 'fusion' would be just as apt a label, not in the jazz-fusion sense but in the wont to enrich a baseline style with as much as possible. Booka Michel is indeed another fusioneer but in such a way that it's almost impossible to determine just where the old leaves off and the new begins……and that's all the evidence you need of a master craftsman.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2011, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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