What do you call a poet without a girlfriend?
— Thom the World Poet (Strange Daze Space Rock Festival)
First, this is not a new Spirits Burning album. It was released in 2009 and while preparing a Spirits Burning radio special a few months ago I realized it’s one I missed, so I’m filling in the review crack.
Thom the World Poet will be known to Aural Innovations readers through his association with Gong and Mother Gong. I had the pleasure of experiencing Thom’s freeform improvised poetry when he played M.C. at the Strange Daze Space Rock Festivals and the Quarkstock 2000 Space Rock Festival. In the CD notes, Spirits Burning ship captain Don Falcone says, “Thom’s ability to vocally riff on the spot will forever amaze me!” I know exactly what he means. Thom’s delivery, band intros, announcements and chats at the festivals were compelling and FUN.
Golden Age Orchestra is very different from any Spirits Burning release to date, mainly because most of the tracks were recorded with a group of musicians actually performing together, rather than the usual Spirits Burning method of Don Falcone assembling multiple contributions from around the world. Joining Thom were David L. on acoustic and electric guitars, Jay Radford (University of Errors, Mushroom) on electric guitars and electric conga, Michael Clare (University of Errors, Weird Biscuit Teatime) on bass, and Don Falcone on organs, horns, piano, string and electronic driven things.
The music consists of spacey, jazzy, bluesy, cool grooving acoustic-electric rock, all functioning as support for Thom’s vocals. I like the spacey jazzy rock, with tasty leads from both acoustic and electric guitars on Golden Age of When. I don’t know who David L. is but I love the guitar interplay between him and Jay Radford, with Only One Question being a standout for dual leads. Other highlights include the spacey sultry blues of Retirement Blues. I dig the psychedelic jazzy blues with trippy flute-Mellotron sounding leads on Santa Somewhere (Beach Blanket Waltz). Both The Light And The Dark is the most psychedelic tune of the set and also the only instrumental, with cavernous Eastern flavored atmospherics and percussion. And River of Xperience (Only One Questions) is the one traditional Spirits Burning track, including global contributions from Kev Ellis (Dr Brown, BubbleDubble, Sonic Arcana) on killer blues harmonica, Chris Hopgood on guitar, and the late Mychael Merrill (Melting Euphoria) on conga.
Golden Age Orchestra may not appeal to all Spirits Burning fans, but to Don’s credit, the project has taken multiple twists and turns over the years and this is certainly a twist. The musicians are outstanding and I’m assuming they were improvising along with Thom. And to really appreciate Thom you have to keep in mind that he’s improvising the lyrics throughout. Pretty impressive.
For more information visit the Spirits Burning web site at: http://www.spiritsburning.com
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz