Monday, July 30, 2012

Chris Ligon "Look At The Birdy" (4*)

Here’s one that takes off the wall into a whole new dimension, folks, and reminds me there are whole slabs of contemporary music that I’ve been aware of for years but still need to investigate.

I was pointed towards this album by a post on Sal Nunziato’s Burning Wood blog. Sal was talking about seeing the latest lineup of NRBQ, an outfit I remember reading about forty-something years ago when they’d abbreviated the New Rhythm and Blues Quartet to the four initials.

But you can’t, as I’ve frequently remarked, catch up on everything, and while I managed to lay my hands on their 1996 live (Tokyo) I’ve managed to negotiate my way through four decades aware of an outfit that has built up a considerable reputation as a live act and an extensive discography (twenty-plus titles at iTunes) and were the unofficial house band in seasons 10, 11 & 12 of The Simpsons without doing too much in the way of further investigation.

Guitarist Scott Ligon is one of the more recent additions to the ever-changing NRBQ line up, and this compilation of songs by his brother Chris was put together by long-term NRBQer Terry Adams, presumably selected from the eight other albums on his website. At fifteen dollars a throw plus shipping that back catalogue might attract some attention from those who have plenty of storage space on the CD shelves and happen to be flush with funds, but for the rest of us Look At The Birdy will have to do.

At least for the time being.

I’m not in the business of appropriating content wholesale from other sites, but in this case I’m inclined to quote Mr Nunziato’s assessment of Birdy as one of the most bizarre little records I have ever heard, causing Sal to sit mouth agape, in a frozen stupor for 33 minutes straight. I didn’t quite go that far, and I’m not sure I agree that Baby Books Bossa and Dr. Peanut (ahem) make the Bonzo Dog Band sound like The Archies, though the comment almost guaranteed I’d be making further investigations.

I’m a huge Bonzos fan, and sighting a comment like that was bound to pique my interest, compris?

But I have to agree that the album’s opener, Buglight, suggests Mr Ligon is operating right out there where the buses don’t run, or, if they do, the service is on the very occasional side of intermittent. How else do you categorise a track that describes the girlfriend’s erotic sensations, stimulated by the electrical zapping of insects? (When my girl sees a bug pop and drop dead / She likes to hop in bed and hug tight). Really?

Florida, following straight after that, is straight ahead pop with a twist, a jaunty little paean to the American Sunshine State complete with a chugga chugga woo woo woo woo chorus, and there’s an exercise in nostalgia on Oh What A Day, complete with cheesy synthesised trumpet and lustful yearnings very firmly in Say what? territory.

The instrumental Baby Books Bossa reminded me of the Holy Modal Rounders rather than the Bonzos headed towards Archies territory, and A Thousand Pumpkins purports to be a contemporary ballad about an attempted assassination of Abraham Lincoln that ends up taking out large quantities of vegetables. The highly experimental (there isn’t really any other tag you can apply to this warped exercise in something indeterminate) I Don't Date churns on, all fractured riff and minimal lyrical content apart from repetitions of the track title, while Look At The Birdy appears to be about a bloke taking baby photos in a shopping mall though one suspects there’s a subtext in operation.

Almond Grove is, in its own way in this environment, a fairly straightforward expression of a love that’s fated to never be, and in Dr. Peanut a girl’s slightly tipsy old chiropractor turns up on her doorstep wanting to take her out to a Japanese restaurant where they got ka-roke-ee...

There’s no way of knowing whether the same dude turns up in Bottom Buck, seeking a girl determined (bet your bottom buck) to find her. One hopes he’s not holding his breath. In Frankenstein Just Got Up a couple who moves into an apartment that the landlord promised would be quiet, only to find out their upstairs neighbour is Frankenstein and he’s forever stomping around (I wish he'd bend his knees), a situation where the only solution involves an axe.

There’s an instrumental interlude (Danny O'Day) before Randy In The Morning plugs a breakfast DJ (or maybe something entirely different, it’s that kind of album) and Girl Of Virginia comes across as relatively straightforward (again, appearances may be deceptive) and The La La Song is exactly that, with forty-nine seconds of jaunty La las. Poetry Slam has emerging poets performing under the threat of a hammer blow to the head, Halfwit has  an almost ear-wormy chorus (it’s not alone in that category) as does Fun, which brings things to a close in territory that’s not a million lyrical miles from Randy Newman’s Old Kentucky Home.

With eighteen tracks clocking in at a tad over thirty-three minutes you might question whether the $16.99 is justified, but if you’re intrigued by people who march to the beat of a different drum it’s about the right dosage.

Bowenites reading this review might be grateful Hughesy’s not polluting the airwaves these days, since Buglight, Florida, the ear-wormy Bottom Buck and Frankenstein Just Got Up would’ve seen fairly regular airplay on the old High Class Music.

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