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7 June 2010

Sandy Bull - 'E Pluribus Unum' (Vanguard)

This document of mid-sixties idiomatic string mastery was something I was originally a bit disappointed with, as half of the record follows a 32-bar blues progression. It took me many years to embrace this progression, as I had an aversion to anything that traditionally rooted. Funny thing too, cause my Dad loves the blues, country, delta, proto-rock and otherwise, so I surely felt a ton of these vibrations when I was in the womb. 'No Deposit, No Return' blues is a multitracked composition by Bull, building up on a boom-chick drum part that actually might have been recorded with bass drum and hi-hat on separate takes. The bass drives the blues melody and Bull improvises on electric guitar and oud. The tone on the electric guitar is amazing; it has one of the most shimmering, earthy sounds I've ever heard and overall the whole track buzzes with an incarnate static energy. By the end, the main melody is driven by the oud but he's extemporisin' up a storm in the background on the 'lectric axe, and even the cowbell has come out. Though the instrumental workout here is beautiful, it's really the overall structural arc that is so great about this track. It moves slowly and loops back in on itself, like a dancing flame. It's totally lovely, but side two's "electric blend" frees itself from the blues convention, beginning around a bold electric oud improvisation. It takes awhile to flex its muscles, painting the walls with ringing overtones while it does. Once the familiar boom-chick creeps in, it feels a bit more focused. Over 21 minutes, 'Electric Blend' starts and stops a few times, creating a whirlwind of eastern-tinged echo and tremelo. The bass solos a bit, getting jiggy over a shuddering electric guitar, in one of the piece's more subtle moments. Like side 1, the background starts to get a bit crazy with noisy, low-mixed freakouts. It has that ringing tambura effect but close listen reveals it to sound more like Thurston Moore. Bull, on the back cover, looks like a guy who owns a midwestern gas station, but from listening to this you'd think he was a swami with long white robes and some dog-eared yoga books. Maybe that's part of what appeals to me so much about E Pluribus Unum - two sides, two moods, east meets west and all of that. The fidelity on this record is top-notch as well - a mid 60's pressing, this somehow remained absolutely mint until it ended up in my hands, and almost no surface noise is present. An advertisement for the wonders of vinyl records, this is!

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