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12 December 2010

The Cherry Blossoms (Apostasy / Black Velvet Fuckere / Breaking World/ Consanguineous / Hank the Herald Angel)

I suppose we should just thank heavens that this LP finally saw release, even if it took years of effort and the collaborative talents of FIVE different record labels. To anyone who has seen the Cherry Blossoms in person (I count myself among those lucky enough), then my frustration is inevitable. How can one capture the bohemian circus that is a Cherry Blossoms live show, using merely the technology of stereo microphones and audio mastering/reproduction? It must fail, not because the Cherry Blossoms are some sort of sonic experimentation that defies the LP format, but cause they are too rambunctious and multi-faceted to be reduced to a mere "band". I mean, they have a tap dancer! (whose contributions are audible here, I suppose, but really the kind of thing you see on the side of the stage while the rest of this messy melée unfolds). The twelve songs on this LP are pretty much the same recordings that have been kicking around forever, mostly live recordings of disappointing fidelity (particularly on 'A Love of My Own', where it's hard to believe they couldn't get a better quality recording). There's a lot of room echo, and while Peggy Snow's voice is still angelic, one must strain to hear the washboard, banjo, tambourines and who-knows-what-else in the margins. Because it's the margins that matter here. When I saw the Cherry Blossoms six years ago in a old Louisville church, I became convinced I was seeing the reincarnation of the Fugs. This was a true celebration of an American anti-current, with members spanning all ages and offerings that went beyond mere music. I was enthralled and entertained; this was the greatest band I've ever seen, and they could barley get through their own songs! Now, the album format removes the spectacle; that first time I saw them, they never really started a song as much as stumbled into it, the melodies and vocals emerging from a morass of fucking about, spontaneously read poetry, and concurrent conversations. Despite the inevitable disappointment of The Cherry Blossoms (or should I say the impossibility) -- I love this album. The only band members pictured on the sleeve are lead voices Peggy Snow and John Allingham, and their individual contributions showcase both of their songwriting styles. Snow's 'Mighty Misissippi' begins the record, showing her tendency for lyrical landscapes and beautifully unfolding melodies. Allingham's tunes are nervous, repetitive, and simplistic, delivered with the same wide-eyed passion he spouts in person. 'Rockin' Rocket Ship' and 'Rocks and Stones' are practically Jad Fair-like in their monotony, yet strangely compelling; by the time I saw them for the second time, after letting this album seep into my brain, I was so pumped up to hear 'Rocks and Stones' that I practically started moshing. Allingham, drummer Chris Davis, and other member Chuck (who doesn't appear to be credited here) moonlight as the utterly brilliant band the Arizona Drains, and you can hear the same stuck-in-a-loop logic in Allingham's Cherry Blossoms songs (the Internet uncovers little evidence to suggest that they still exist, which is tragic.) It's the few chances where Snow and Allingham combine songwriting talents that the Cherry Blossoms manage to create something transcendent, even despite the unsatisfying recording. 'Golden Windows' is a good time, 'Amazing Stars' moreso; but then, 'The Wind Did Blow' knocks it out of the park -- it is a spellbinding piece of magic, the Cherry Blossoms finest moment. Other highlights include a skiffle band cover version of BÖC's 'Godzilla' that is discordant and amusing (driven by kazoo, of course) and 'The Rising Tide', a chilling, beautiful coda. I have come to accept that this is all we'll ever get; I'll probably never again experience their madness -- their website hasn't been updated since 2001! So this is another great tragedy of American art, or maybe the furthest thing from a tragedy -- just a reminder that we don't need to document everything. I'm re-inspired just thinking about that first live show, an unforgettable ephemeral moment. And who knows, maybe something else will surface one day.

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