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Skeleton Crew: The Country of Blinds/Learn to Talk

ReR Megacorp continues to push the boundaries of avant-garde rock with each new release and reissue, and this 2 CD set from Skeleton Crew contains both 80's albums The Country of Blinds and Learn to Talk, as well as a slew of bonus tracks. Skeleton Crew was comprised of Henry Cow alumnus Fred Firth on guitar, bass, violin, cello, keyboards, drums, and vocals, Tom Cora on cello, bass, keyboards, drums, and vocals, and they are joined on Blinds by Zeena Parkins on organ, electric harp, accordion, drums, and vocals. From the looks of all this one would assume that the listener would be in for a pretty eclectic ride right? Well, you guessed correctly. Much of this 2 CD collection is filled with quirky, complex, and offbeat material that borders on rock, prog, jazz, chamber music, new wave, and certainly avant-garde, but in the end is almost impossible to classify.

Fans of Frank Zappa's complex and avant-garde releases like Uncle Meat, Lumpy Gravy, or the earliest Mothers of Invention albums, will find much to like on The Country of Blinds, but don't expect an easy listen. This is a pretty demanding album, and one that will take a few spins to fully grasp, as Frith, Cora, and Parkins pull out all the stops and hit you with everything but the kitchen sink. One thing to mention up front is that you had better like violin and cello, as both Frith and Cora add plenty into the mix. A song like "The Hand That Bites" combines reggae vocals with proggy organ, scratchy violin & cello, and acrobatic drum work for a truly bizarre sound. "Bingo" takes the Mothers of Invention style one step further and brings it into the 80's, while "Foot In Hole" almost reminds of Rascal Reporters with haunting accordion and intricate guitar and percussion. Frith's "Sparrow Song" is a real workout for guitar, violin, and vocals, and has an almost acapella feel to it, and the heavy rock meets new wave of "Second Rate" sort of sounds like a head on collision of Utopia, Talking Heads, and The B-52's. Take a deep breath...

Learn to Talk is much more fun and easier to listen to overall. The opening track "Que Viva / Onwards And Upwards " is purely indicative of what to expect later on, as the trio creates some intricate & quirky rock with guitars, bass, violin, and cello that recalls Talking Heads, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Henry Cow, and even a dash of 80's King Crimson, but yet oddly it is something completely different. Other cuts like the hoedown frenzy of "We're Still Free " and the mysterious mix of electronics with violin & cello on "Los Colitos " make for an intriguing listen. Frith's unique guitar phrasing comes into play on the jangly "It's Fine ", a song with totally oddball lyrics and vocals that strangely force you to sing along, and the guitarist really struts his stuff on the pseudo-jazz/classical romp of "Zach's Flag ".

In summary, this set is like nothing I have ever heard before, which should instantly make this a must hear for someone who likes things off the beaten path and as far from commercial music as possible. This is avant-garde with a capital "A", and a great reissue for ReR Megacorp who hope to keep the music of Fred Frith and the late Tom Cora alive in the hearts and mind of us all.

Track Listing
Disc: 1
1. The Country Of Blinds
2. The Border
3. The Hand That Bites
4. Dead Sheep
5. Bingo
6. Man Or Monkey
7. Foot In Hole
8. Hot Field
9. The Birds Of Japan
10. You May Find A Bed
11. Sparrow Song
12. Safety In Numbers
13. Howdywhoola Too
14. Second Rate
15. New Orleans Stomp
16. Hasta La Victoria
Disc: 2
1. Que Viva / Onwards And Upwards
2. The Way Things Fall
3. Not My Shoes
4. The Washington Post
5. We're Still Free
6. Victoryville
7. Los Colitos
8. Learn To Talk
9. Factory Song
10. It's Fine
11. Zach's Flag
12. Sick As A Parrot
13. Automatic Pilot
14. Hook
15. Killing Time

Added: March 13th 2006
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: ReR Megacorp
Hits: 2499
Language: english

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