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18 March 2016

John Greaves / Peter Blegvad / Lisa Herman - 'Kew. Rhone.' (Virgin)

The lineup here is impressive, and I've always wanted Kew. Rhone. to be just a little bit more attenuated towards Blegvad's quirky pop songwriting and less towards sounding like 50 other art-rock records that I have. Many would probably call this Blegvad's masterpiece as a lyricist, which may be true -- but my copy is missing the lyrics sheet! Thankfully the Internet steps in to fill things out, because Kew. Rhone. is made up of riddles and conundrums. Maybe it's not going to make your soul weep with heart-rendering emotional ballads, but what's here can get the brain raging like nothing else. That is, if you can pay attention; there's so much going on with the backing tracks (Andrew Cyrille's drumming is particularly impressive) so it's easy to tune out to what they are crooning about. And some songs, like 'Catalogue Of Fifteen Objects And Their Titles', are just that - lists, brilliant to read on paper, and brilliant to listen to sung over a prog track, but it's hard to pay attention to while it's happening.  Do the lyrics reflect the music? Probably under deeper study, yes, but my big complaint with Kew. Rhone., and I know this is blasphemy as a supposed Blegvad fan, is that for such unparalleled lyrical constructions, the music feels better suited for some of Chris Cutler's stern Marxist musings instead. Of course, John Greaves is responsible for the compositions, and this is 1976, so it's still very much derived from the Henry Cow sound; any sort of punk influence is nascent, though 'Nine Mineral Emblems' has a pretty manic jam between a noisy guitar (I guess Blegvad's) and Michael Mantler's trumpet. Mantler and then-wife Carla Bley are strongly felt here; compositionally it feels pretty much like a merger of Bley's work (from that period) with that of Henry Cow. Above it all soars Lisa Herman, a very under-recorded vocalist whose voice is perfectly suited for this progressive, arty sound. At times she is soulful and at others screeching; when she duets with Blegvad ('Apricot', among others) she has the ability to bring out a certain quality in his voice. As incredible as songs like 'Pipeline' might be (which refer to Blegvad's drawings on the back of the album as an essential component), it's only a few times that I feel the band is really exploring some new territory (such as the remarkable closer 'gegenstand'). With further study, I suspect I could become mildly obsessed with this record. And I love In Praise of Learning, yet this I wish sounded more like Slapp Happy. I dunno. I guess I'm just too demanding. And there's a book out about this now, which has spawned a few online articles proclaiming this record's greatness. Everything lines up to make this something I should be obsessed with, but perhaps I missed my chance. Or maybe the book, which I'm ordering now, will illuminate things more clearly.

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