Spirits Burning & Bridget Wishart - "Bloodlines" (Voiceprint 2009, VP499CD)
Spirits Burning - "Crazy Fluid" (Voiceprint 2010, VP492CD)
From Aural Innovations March 2010 update
For over a decade, Don Falcone has been the organizer and mastermind behind Spirits Burning, the gathering-in-space collective of musicians from all corners of the space and progressive rock realms, and the globe. I love bands that wear their influences on their shirt sleeves as much as anyone. But through Spirits Burning, Don is exploring space rock's possibilities and truly moving ahead by creating music that is well off the beaten path.
Bloodlines is the eighth Spirits Burning album and the second collaboration with Bridget Wishart, the follow up to the Earth Born album from 2008. As is the custom with Spirits Burning we have a wealth of contributors. Among the more well known names are Daevid Allen, Harvey Bainbridge, Simon House, Steve Swindells, Banco de Gaia, and Nic Potter from Van Der Graaf Generator (nice one Don).
Bloodlines consists of 15 songs and is described as a historical jaunt by a cosmically festive crew, with each track focusing on a different historical figure. The songs are very accessible, many even radio friendly, though the magic of the music is the underlying variety and complexity. Among the standout tracks are "Cleopatra", a solid rocker about everybody's favorite Egyptian queen. It's a bit on the punky side, with great flute and clarinet embellishments from Purjah. Don never shies away from bringing together contrasting elements on these albums. Like the dirty bluesy slide guitar alongside ambient and alien synth bits on "Queen Of Ghosts". Jazz and blues influences are augmented by spacey electronics and grooves on "Mother Of The Dragon". "Mistress Of The Age" is one of my favorites, with an exquisite blend of gliss guitar from Daevid Allen and sitar from Purjah. Beautiful song. Ethnic, psychedelic, spacey, and great grooves. "Czaritsa" is a light but nicely grooving tune with Simon House's violin singing in harmony with Bridget. I love the acoustic guitar and mellotron combination on "Heaven's Hide". And "Silene's Light" features a great mixture of old time prog, searing rock, and dance grooves.
There's plenty of rhythmic action and ethnic influences throughout the album, and lots of creative use of electronics. The lyrics are well written, mostly by Bridget. One exception is "Rocket To The End Of The Line", with lyrics penned by Bridget and Steve Swindells. Steve takes lead vocals on this space-pop rocker. It's a cool song and if Don were looking for candidates to be a single, this would be a good one. Following the lyrics on Bloodlines was especially interesting because of the descriptions that precede the songs in the liner notes. For example, "Mother Of The Dragon" is all the more interesting having read that its based on the question, back in the 14th century, how might the mother of Dracul (Vlad the Dragon) felt if she could somehow sense the violent destiny of her son as he nestled in her womb?. And "Holding Hands" suggests that if God's son decided to pay a visit to 21st century Earth he might well appear out of the clouds at the controls of a UFO. Now there's an image for you...
Crazy Fluid is the ninth Spirits Burning album and among its many contributors are Daevid Allen, Graham Clarke, Bridget Wishart, Capt. Black. William Kopecky, Cyndee Lee Rule, Scott Brazieal and Garry Parra, who hardcore progheads might remember from the band Cartoon, and Ernie Falcone and the late Barney Jones from Mars Everwhere.... well, sort of. I'll explain later.
Crazy Fluid travels a somewhat different path than previous Spirits Burning albums. Dedicated to Barney Jones, Mars Everywhere and Cartoon, this will appeal to fans of avant-prog/Rock-in-Opposition styles, though, as always, there's plenty of space rock elements to be found throughout the album. The set opens with "Holy Water and the Sea Movers", which features Jazz inflected space rock with an outstanding aresenal of instrumentation. We've got ripping guitar leads by Richard Wileman (Karda Estra) and a gorgeous bass sound from William Kopecky (been in a zillion bands). I love the sound of what's described as ambient interlude clarinet. Later the music transitions and launches into a killer prog and fusion rocker, with saxophone and Cyndee Lee Rule's Viper violin leading the way, plus piano, outasight guitar, spaced out synths and more. Great opening track. "My Caspian Sea Monster" is a rhythmically off-kilter and brain-scrambling, but compositionally mind-boggling avant-prog piece. Scott Brazieal and Gary Parra, who contribute keyboards and drums, clearly had an influence because parts of this are reminiscent of their Cartoon days. I also hear elements that bring to mind a more funked out version of Fred Frith's Speechless album. All in all it's a frenzied instrumental workout that works up a drenching sweat. Graham Clark has in no way lost his touch on the violin as his work on this tune is stunning. "Slicing Through The Unknown Plantagenets" consists of Jazz fusion with a spaced out edge. We're treated to pleasant melodic acoustic guitar from Purjah, underscored by a fusion jam that is alternately rocking and mellow, and all surrounded by Capt. Black's aggressively swirling UFO synths. It's a wild combination that works great. Later in the track the band dispense with the Jazz elements and launch into a searing rocking jam that's like a coda to "My Caspian Sea Monster". "I Don't Want To Grow Up and Be A Scent Dealer Like You" is a short, caustically aggressive, and strangely grooving, jazz-rock workout.
A note about "Caravelle" says that it features ancient material from a jam at my cousin Ernie's house in the days that he, Barney, and Greg were in Mars Everywhere. A little background: Ernie Falcone and the late Barney Jones started Mars Everywhere in the Washington, DC area in the late 70s and released an LP in 1980 on Random Radar Records, plus at least one cassette tape that I know of on the Audiofile Tapes label. A lesser known but essential band from the American space rock underground (the late great Doug Walker turned me on to these guys). This is an interesting combination of old and new material, and you can easily distinguish the older recordings from the new. Whimiscal jazz mixed with psychedelia and doomy prog. "Pinball Symphonies (An Ancient Psychedelic Performance @ The Tail End of Youth)" includes more of the old Mars Everywhere recordings. It starts off like an avant-orchestral free-improvisation but never stops for a moment, allowing no opportunity for categorizaton. There are elements of lumbering 70s hard rock, Jazz bass, classic prog rock mellotron, and endless sound effects. And in terms of composition, construction, and flow.... it works like a charm. I was riveted for the entire 11 minutes.
"Martian Crystals" is the one actual song on the album, of course with Bridget on vocals. It rocks in space with a cool funky groove and is a bit dance-like. Bridget is credited with Martian Vocals singing in a growly Nina Hagen-ish style. "Liquid Clocks" is almost Smooth Jazz at the core, though it's surrounded by a spaced out ambience and does manage to rock out too. Nice Viper fills by Cyndee. And speaking of rocking out, "Fondue Fuels" is the in-yer-face prog-space-punk monster track of the album. This... is... ROCK. Careful, it'll leave bruises on ya. "The Book of Luana" closes the album and is a tribute to 70s progressive rock. The notes about the track says that the subject of this song and the idea to emulate the classic sound of 70's progressive rock instruments were inspired by Mauro Moroni of Mellow Records. Well Don does just that... in spades. The track opens with acoustic guitar, synths and chanting vocals by Daevid Allen, but quickly launches into a steady rocking song that reminds me of the 70s Canterbury bands. After a few minutes there's a spaced out transitional bit before commencing with Part iii, which is a killer throwback to classic 70s prog, lyrics and all. Part iv returns to the introductory segment, but builds on it and very much reminds me of Steve Hackett's early solo albums.
Wow, what a knockout of an album. Don never fails to keep Spirits Burning fresh and exciting. And reviewing this back-to-back with Bloodlines was a real pleasure, especially given the contrasts between the two. Keep 'em coming!!!
For more information you can visit the Spirits Burning web site at: http://www.spiritsburning.com
Reviewed by Spaceman33