The latest from Austin, Texas based Book Of Shadows features 7 tracks and nearly 80 full minutes on a limited edition CDR of only 150 individually numbered copies from Kendra Steiner Editions. As usual, the lineup of musicians can vary from one track to the next, with mainstays Carlton and Sharon Crutcher being the constants.
The set opens with Dragonfly Children, featuring the trio of Carlton, Sharon, and Aaron Bennack on guitar, keys and beats. This is a wild and freaky combination of Sharon’s vocals, spaced out electronics, guitar manipulations and effects, and a chugging rhythmic machine-like pulse. After a couple minutes Aaron settles into a repetitive guitar pattern, part of which adds a pleasant melodic sense, while Sharon continues her angelic chant and the UFO electronics flit about. LOTS happening here and I love the way Book Of Shadows puts it all together. A strong opening track. Serpent is another Carlton/Sharon/Aaron trio piece, this time with Carlton and Sharon on vocals and Aaron on percussion. Sharon chants while Carlton creates aggressive spitted shushes and whispers and Aaron jams away on rhythmic percussion. A short but interesting piece. Cherrywood features the quartet of Carlton and Sharon plus Brett Humphrey and Steve Marsh on guitar and electronics. It starts off with searing drone guitar, improv guitar noodling plus other effects, some of which have a Frippoid soundscape vibe, Sharon’s frighteningly witchy howls, a pack of chirping birds, and then takes off from there. This is all about haunting mood and atmosphere creation, with lots of interesting guitar sounds and effects, as well as creative interplay between Brett and Steve. And things get incredibly intense at times. It’s a great blend of ambience and sound exploration, but the real power of the piece is the gripping narrative flow that kept me riveted throughout its 24+ minute length.
Vineland features a 6 member lineup, with Carlton, Sharon, a guitar trio of Aaron, Brett and Derek Rogers, and Jonathan Hone on bass. At nearly 19 minutes this is another lengthy stretch-out track. Sharon chants and a droney electronic wave hovers over the proceedings while the guitars do their magic. Once again we get a sense of narrative flow, in this case like some kind of sonic avant-noise theater production, where the musicians function as actors putting on a play. The pace and intensity level ebb and flow, with mood and ambience sometimes dominating, and at others times the guitars seem to be simultaneously dueling, merging and meshing. There’s some great bass parts too where I could feel the low end drone tear right through my body. Goddess Played the Wind Chymes is a less than one minute transitional piece featuring [you guessed it] wind chymes, leading into the 25+ minute To Merry Mary and Little Bitty Bette Easter ’70, which is performed by the quintet of Sharon, Carlton, Aaron on keys and Brett and Steve on guitar and electronics. The piece consists of slowly developing drone guitar, UFO electronics, wailing effects and some pretty scaring vocal effects from Sharon. We later get some contrasting melodic guitar soloing, a spaced out soundscape wave, old time Wurlitzer sounding organ, a deep thudding bass line, and a hodgepodge of other fun sounds, making for one of the wildest mash-mash of elements on the album. Finally, Thinking of Daniel is a short duo piece with Aaron on chord organ and Jason Zenmoth on guitar. Another fine set from Book Of Shadows.
For more information you can visit the Kendra Steiner Editions web site at: http://kendrasteinereditions.wordpress.com
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz