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25 September 2011

Curlew (Landslide)

The first Curlew album is really ugly to look at but has some great sounds inside.  I always though of Davey Williams as an integral member of Curlew, but here, he's absent - the guitar duties are handled by Nicky Skopelitis and they're quite understated, particularly on the more composed pieces.  Now, how much you enjoy this record is probably directly related to how much you enjoy the electric bass stylings of Bill Laswell.  I'm OK with Laswell -- someone one described him to me as a "lottery ticket", meaning you either hit it big (Massacre Killing Time) or you lose completely.  That's a bit harsh, sure, and I don't think we should really fault the guy for playing bass a bit differently.  Remember, this was years before Seinfeld destroyed the slap-bass sound forever.  And to be honest, Laswell is really exploratory, particularly on the Cartwright-composed tunes that dominate the record.  But my love is for Tom Cora, who sounds absolutely great here, getting jiggy with Cartwright on 'Bitter Thumbs' and offering his own meandering composition 'Rudders', which has the playful edge of great Dutch free jazz.  The Cartwright compositions are good too, though - there's enough openness and irregularity to disrupt any tendencies toward fusion-rock wank.  If this was a hockey team, Cartwright and Cora would be the exciting wingers, Laswell the center, and I guess Bill Bacon and Skopelitis the defensemen, though I guess that isn't enough people to have a goalie.  There's four short, collectively improvised cuts that are actually my favourites on the album.  'But Get It' on side two resembles the free folk/No Neck kinda sound somewhat, and 'Binoculars' is wonderful directionless and where Skopelitis gets pleasantly scratchy with his axe.  This was recorded in Woodstock, NY and live at CBGB's, so it's pretty funny to think about how un-rock this is despite physically occurring in two of the most famous locations ever.  

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