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31 October 2011

Dando Shaft (RCA/Neon)

The shaggy longhairs clustered together on the back sleeve of this record would make you think we're about to listen to some roaring psych or Krautrock; beards, vacant stares, and a blurryness to the photo all suggest many Dionysian nights.  But Dionysian Knights is more like it; Dando Shaft most resemble a frantic Pentangle clone, mostly due to the jazzy inflections in the Roger Bullen's bass playing.  There's no drum kit, but congas on most tracks, and quickly plucked strings are the essence of their sound.  It's hard to see who the leader of Dando Shaft is, as everyone is so multi-instrumental, and vocals are shared by everyone.  The most common motif is the shredding mandolin of Martin Jenkins over the two guitar attack of Dave Cooper and Kev Dempsey; parts of Dando Shaft are actually actually punishing in the speed of the licks, such as 'Railway'.  When Polly Bolton sings it enhances their place in that whole milieu, though she's no Sandy Denny, Maddy Prior or Jackie McShea.  Percussion as I mentioned before is mostly congas, and songs like 'Pass it On' get a slightly irritating "Kum-Bay-Yah" jamgrass feel that is definitely a product of its time.  But then 'Waves Upon the Ether' is masterful, with different vocal lines pulling melodies in different directions, much as the title would indicate.  There's almost a bit too much 'kitchen sink syndrome' going on here, as the group seems to lack a unified voice.  But perhaps this type of democracy is what they were going for.  Cooper's 'Prayer' ends the record, a half-minute of non-denominational solo yearning that is actually a nice cap to things.  Unfortunately this is on the horrible "dynaflex" vinyl that RCA was so fond of in the early 70s, and the sound quality is resultantly thin.  I know this has gotten the 180g reissue treatment in recent years, but I can't quite justify that expenditure cause Dando Shaft is far closer to "good" than "great".

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