Back in the 70s, I was as avid a record collector as I am to this day, and I scoured the bins for unusual LPs to snag and immerse myself in. One day, at Crane's Records in Inglewood, the first retail business in the area to sell used records, I found a copy of Wigwam's Tombstone Valentine and, because I was a good customer, the clerk played a cut for me. That one slice was all I needed, and I bought the thing as soon as he got it off the turntable plattern. The American version was a two-fer and this particular LP was a DJ copy carrying a sticker saying "…in the tradition of Tommy, Bee Gees, and Abbey Road". Welllllll…okay…I guess…I mean, it was a quote from Lester 'Romilar' Bangs, so what did one expect? But I found the LP unique and inviting and thus went for it - in fact still have the exact same copy—and that set me up for their marvelous Nuclear Nightclub. Jim Pembroke was a member of that group, and those Finn bad boys set me up for a later appreciation of Tasavallian Presidentti and Jukka Tolonen among other Northron ensembles (Baltik, etc.).
Thus it was with a great deal of happiness I was solicited to review If the Rain Comes (the PR guy didn't have to ask twice!), the first solo CD from Jim since 81's Party Upstairs. Man, 23 years is a long time to wait! And I'm just as happy to announce that his latest is very much in line with the halcyon elder materials. I've always felt Pembroke, like Hollander R.J. Stips (Supersister), has been a much overlooked individual, and when you hear the band go to it in Columbus in India, Jukka Orma tearing the frets off his guitar as Pembroke plies organ behind him, you'll know exactly what I mean. After all, Jim had written well over half the Tombstone and Nuclear materials, displaying a quirky, often enough tongue in cheek, penchant, repeated here in Love is Easier, The DNA Club, and elsewhere, everything well saturated with prog, rock, and jazz.
Yep, this is VERY much in tune with the grand ol' days and roundly benefits from the production, trumpet, and backing vox of Otto (Henrik Otto Donner), who'd co-pro-ed Tombstone way back when with Kim Fowley (Jesus, was there ever a gig that guy wasn't involved in?, and how did he get from Hollywood to Helsinki??) but sadly passed to The Great Rehearsal Hall In The Sky in the summer of 2013. I'm serious: though the band issued 10 albums, If the Rain Comes could fit in anywhere but especially right after Tombstone and in all respects, from dirgey lament to proggy kick-up to heavily rhythmic hard charger. Maybe that's what Bangs was referring to in his quote, that chameleonic quality. Still, neither this nor the other Wigwam LPs are in any way close to the Beatles, the Who, or the Bee Gees, though you might be able to argue me a bit in respect of the latter's Odessa…but only a little. Wigwam's and Pembroke's work have always stood as unique products, no more and no less than, say, Nektar or Nine Days Wonder, though sounding little like neither of those as well.
In an age of worthless words and advertising rhetoric, this is what one nonetheless could easily properly call a 'triumphant return' and mean it. After nearly a quarter century (though Wigwam released in ensemble in 2005), not only has Pembroke lost nothing of his talents but in fact has polished it all up to the ne plus ultra of his own idiosyncratics. The sophisticated listener and the seasoned proghead will both find much to wallow in—again, not the least of which being his offbeat but warm and touching sense of humor—and newbs (that is to say: all the highly skilled musicians of recent coinage, the 80s and forward) will discover a rich source of pensivity and inspiration. Hell, maybe even Lester will be reconsidering his jumbled-up thinking upon exposure to If the Rain Comes. Do they sell pharmaceuticals in Heaven? But…um…geez, how do I explain this? The last cut of the CD is titled Midnight in Abbey Road!
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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