MV & EE with the Bummer Road - Mother of Thousands (Time-Lag 2xLP)
Matt Valentine and Erika Elder have been hoisting the freak-folk torch in the Tower Recordings long before Wire cover features and running your own CD-R label came into the picture. And the torch was set down for awhile, but it's up and running and blazing prominently on "Mother of Thousands", MV & EE's first truly major self-defining (and available) release in this configuration that also includes the Bummer Road (Mo' Jiggs, Sparrow Wildchild, Nemo Bidstrup, Tim Barnes and Samara Lubelski). Unfortunately I myself have been pretty ignorant on all things Tower Recordings-related, so I'm just jumping into the game real late here. Anyway, no time like the present to get educated, and what better way than with a session involving two huge saucers of vinyl and the genre's godparents.
I guess the laziest and most obvious comparison to current scene luminaries would be Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice or Bardo Pond. But MV & EE do it differently, playing honestly and straight-up for the whole hour-plus, riddled with a huge folk, psychedelic and blues influence (the second LP is devoted entirely to classic blues tunes covers). The set opens with "The Joyous Within", a wholly mind-altering soup of clarion calls, tripped-out drones sprinkled with a touch of ukelin, I guess? But "Cold Rain" is much less adventurous (and all the better for it). Despite the title, the sun-washed acoustic guitar line gets me all tropic-like inside and before too long I'm singing my heart out with Matt and Erika, even if I don't know the words. So I just make vague, lilting, humming noises. My dog seems down with it, so who cares what YOU think! "Beautiful Mountain" is similar, though doubly-delightful and even more audaciously catchy. "Anthem of the Cocola Y&T" sees Elder and Valentine turn the reigns over a bit more to the Bummer Road, who take you on a long, strange, kraut-y journey filled with pools of left-field instrumentation slopping up against a repetitive folky acoustic wandering. A+ 1+, as my elementary school report cards used to say.
After the brief, harmonica-ized "My Love for You Has Turned to Life", the group return to classic hippie field jams with "Sunshine Girl", which turns an unexpected turn into darker pastures with clouds looming overhead and thunder a-rumblin' in the distance...but that all gets washed out of the sky with a proggy electric guitar solo and all's well again. "Canned Heat Blues" is an ultra-dusty basement folk revival coasting along nicely on the strength of the MV/EE duo's voices, while "C.C. Pills" is another mostly-psych/prog jam dominated by the Bummer Road (but Valentine's vocals steer the ship every now and again). Think Virgin Insanity setting up shop in Amon Duul II's coven with Fraction sitting in...maybe. First record closes with "Sun Shine On Us All", a bit foggier and more distant than the title would suggest but very nice all the same.
Like I said before, the second record is all classic blues reworkings, some versions of which have been milling around inside the MV/EE canon for quite some time now. The group do meditations on Mississippi John Hurt's "Pay Day", and stretch it out into a 15-minute walk through the uncharted cosmos with harmonica, wild-ass electric guitar, bells and whistles and the whole kit n' caboodle coming together and pulling apart like tectonic plates. There's a mean wind blowing, and these folks are the ones conjuring it up. "Banty Rooster Blues" comes from Charley Patton, and though it's definitely not as zonked as the prior, it's still got the band's indelible stamp all over it. Erika Elder handles the seducingly lonely vocals on this one perfectly, and the smudgy, near-crumbling production values on this one aim it right at the soul just right. There's a brief take on what may or may not be Sonny Boy Williamson's "Dissatisfied" before they launch into the 24-minute epic "Death Don't Have No Mercy" by the Revered Gary Davis. The first ten minutes are devoted to a floating, wayward Sun Ra-style grave-haunt and moves seamlessly into a near-acapella Elder singing the song's lyrics from wayyy under the covers. Another psychedelictric guitar firestorm, a reprise from Elder, and you are (unfortunately) at the finish line.
I know, I know, the freak thing is getting oversaturated these days, but you shouldn't need me to tell you that these dudes are the real deal, and if you didn't manage to secure any of their other private press CD-Rs and LPs, then all aboard right the hell now with "Mother of Thousands". Valentine, Elder, and co. have, as expected, but an entirely refreshing and welcome spin on an aging genre and have done it on their own terms...which is always the best way to do it, right? Right on, and here's the proof. Dig it!