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Old (not so) Lonesome Sounds and a pair of Benji's
American fun and an improvisational jam with old-fashioned technology
Bryan and the Haggards featuring Dr. Eugene Chadbourne
Merles Just Want to Have Fun
Roughly a century ago, traditional American music blazed divergent forks, eventually solidifying into what we know as country music and jazz and ending up on opposite sides of the radio dial.
The rollicking new album Merles Just Want to Have Fun from Bryan and the Haggards, led by saxophonist Bryan Murray, with the esteemed free-improv/bluegrass banjo and dobro player Eugene Chadbourne, pays tribute to Merle Haggard by gleefully and sometimes violently smashing together country music and avant-jazz.
There are many ways this could have been a train wreck, but this writer was pleasantly surprised by just how spirited and enjoyable this album is, in its own goofy yet reverent way. The ensemble transcends novelty while expressing a sense of humor, creating an album that is good for much more than a few laughs and holds up to multiple listenings.
Murray’s crack team features saxophonist Jon Irabagon and bassist Moppa Elliott from the formidable and cheeky jazz outfit Mostly Other People Do The Killing plus guitarist Jon Lundbom and drummer Danny Fischer, and after two albums of instrumental Merle Haggard covers, the new, third album features a striking change by featuring vocals from Eugene Chadbourne.
Chadbourne is a perfect fit, being no stranger to country music or the avant-garde, having collaborated with diverse artists such as John Zorn and Camper Van Beethoven and plundered the classic country canon, from Roger Miller to Johnny Cash, for his unusual covers.
Each track uses a different approach while still (sometimes just barely) being recognizable as country music, with “Fightin’ Side of Me” ending with an all-out free-jazz breakdown and “Okie from Muskogee” using unrepentant, discordant sax siren tones.
It is unlikely that this album will be a jazz gateway for country fans, since it is probably too crazy for the typical country listener, but free jazz fans might come away with a somewhat greater appreciation for Merle Haggard. Depending on your perspective, it is either one of the most adventurous country albums or one of the most offbeat avant-jazz albums of the year.
Form A Log
The Two Benji’s
On an episode of The Simpsons, it was humorously explained that few cartoons are broadcast live because “it’s a tremendous strain on the animator’s wrist.” Of course, traditional cell animation is an extremely labor-intensive process, and similarly, early sound artists painstakingly spliced bits of tape together, using tape as a compositional medium.
The trio Form A Log offers a twist on tape music, bringing it into the realm of live improvisation by creating pieces in real-time, solely using samples from pre-recorded cassettes and 4-track recorders used as playback devices. While sample-heavy plundering acts such as Girl Talk or John Oswald play with how the listener recognizes and processes popular-music samples, bending the context of the music, Form A Log has an entirely different approach, using unrecognizable samples, possibly meant to alienate and confuse the listener while still being entertaining.
The latest Form A Log album, available on vinyl and as a digital download, from 4-track jockeys Noah Anthony (Profligate), Ren Schofield (Container) and Rick Weaver (Dinner Music) is entitled The Two Benji’s, taking its name from the coined term for throwing the “V” symbol with two fingers, and apparently it is a concept album, while the concept isn’t entirely clear.
It may have to do with Asian noodles and “Log Culture”; perhaps the Twin Peaks Log Lady would know what it is. Ultimately, it gives off the vibe of being the aural equivalent of all of the non-anime Cartoon Network “Adult Swim” television shows, with a peculiar, bizarre and button-pushing sense of humor. Regarding an improvisational style, it seems like the players feed off each other in order to keep things bewildering and utterly unpredictable. It may be the sound of going insane while the soundtrack for the film Fletch stutters in the listener’s head.
Love it or hate it, with donkey sounds, dated ‘80s synth-bass slaps, disquieting vocal snippets and other pages of madness, it ends up being one of the most spontaneously strange albums of recent memory.