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Keneally, Mike: Scambot 1

"Cat Bran Sammich
There you go again
Refusing to believe in my death and rebirth by cat
Refusing to believe that I flew from my bed in the cold eye
of a deep blue twilight…fell screaming in the valley of cats.
Taken to pieces, bit by bit, by thousands of claws
and cat teeth."

Words paint a picture and sometimes the picture painted is as abstract as the words themselves. Very strange this Scambot 1 is, the latest creation from Mike Keneally who initially made a name for himself helping out Frank Zappa during his 1988 tour. For the past twenty years Keneally has been involved with numerous projects and has several solo albums under his belt.

Scambot 1 is one of those albums that might not come easily or at all, depending on your level of patience. This album pays attention to the smallest of details. This is intricate stuff and may be easily overlooked if not careful. On the back of the CD booklet it is stated, "Dedicated to anyone who still listens to entire albums with their headphones on." This is good advice as headphones allow the subtle nuances hidden within to come to life.

As far as the concept is concerned it is pretty convoluted but maybe that is exactly what Keneally had in mind as it does fit in well with the music. The booklet contains extensive notes so following along will be a treat for fans of complex conceptual pieces.

Musically speaking, there are a lot of variations of complexity and different styles presented in Scambot 1, including Keneally's unique take on avant-garde jazz. You will also here pop and rock albeit wrapped in a cocoon of quirkiness, somewhat similar to the off-the-wall antics of Frank Zappa.

There are some great melodies scattered amongst the "harder to get" stuff like the poppish "Hallmark" which subtlety reminded me of XTC, especially in the vocal harmonies which are excellent. The jazz rock of "Chee" features plenty of wind instruments that serve the melody as well as Keneally's stellar guitar runs. The distorted rock of "Tomorrow" has Keneally rocking with heavy riffs and a ripping guitar solo. At only two minutes I wished this one was a bit longer. "You Named Me" has Keneally playing Hendrix style chords over sparse keyboards before taking a more ambient direction. The intricate vocal harmonies in "Cat Bran Sammich Part Two" is another highlight where complexity and melody go hand in hand. The funky grooves of "Saturate" have a retro feel and the wah wah guitar in the background creates a layered effect that adds plenty of depth to the music. In the acoustic "Cold Hands", Keneally again shows he can write a great melody that harkens back to 70s Paul Simon, complete with lovely vocals and an infectious beat.

The album's longest songs are "We Are The Quiet Children" and "Gita"; the former being a heavy guitar driven improvisational jam and the latter taking on various musical themes of pastoral beauty featuring violin to manic guitar parts where shredding is the order of the day. In a few places keyboards add a symphonic touch.

The album ends with the dreamy "DaDunDa", featuring a lovely melody and the beautiful backing vocals of Mike's daughter Jesse. A fine ending to a very good album.

Although I have not yet caught on to some of the shorter songs Scambot 1 has to offer, they do serve to keep the concept flowing making them a necessary ingredient. Five years in the making with many musicians and engineers using six studios, this is not a project thrown together over the course of a few weeks. With Scambot 1, Keneally has created an adventurous and artful album that deserves your full attention. To be continued…

Track Listing:
1. Big Screen Boboli
2. Ophunji's Theme
3. Hallmark
4. Chee
5. Tomorrow
6. Cat Bran Sammich Part One
7. You Named Me
8. Cat Bran Sammich Part Two
9. Saturate
10. M
11. Cold Hands
12. We Are The Quiet Children
13. Foam
14. The Brink
15. Life's Too Small
16. Behind The Door
17. Gita
18. DaDunDa

Added: December 8th 2009
Reviewer: Jon Neudorf
Related Link: Artist's Official Site
Hits: 3687
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Keneally, Mike: Scambot 1
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2009-12-08 19:07:17
My Score:

If you are familiar with Mike Keneally's solo material, or even his time spent with the late, great Frank Zappa, you no doubt know that he always likes to keep listeners on their toes. Scambot 1 is no exception, another in a fine line of fascinating releases from this master musician. As the press sheet states "dedicated to anyone who still listens to entire albums with their headphones", I did just that when trying to digest this complex, varied work. Many of the familiar musical themes that we've come to expect from Keneally over the years rear their heads here, such as the almost Beatles-ish pop flavors, the searing prog rock, and the intricate, often jarring avant-garde jazz elements.

Though the main disc contains 18 tracks, many serve as short interludes to the longer, more demanding pieces. "Hallmark" is an exciting mix of catchy, quirky pop, jazz, and some stunning Steve Howe inspired guitar solos from Keneally. "Chee" is a remarkable jazz-fusion instrumental jaunt that could have easily come from one of Zappa's late 80's releases, complete with some great sax, horns, violin, and a wild guitar lead from Mike. After the brief, almost heavy metal romp of "Tomorrow" ( I detect a slight influence from some of Todd Rundgren's heavier material here) comes the bizarro "Cat Bran Sammich Pt. 1", a strange combination of psychedelia, prog, and avant-garde mayhem.

Gotta love the wild "We Are the Quiet Children", a fiery number with some ripping guitar solos, and the extended epic "Gita", which is over 12-minutes of free-form jazz and classical tinged prog, featuring some stunning drum and guitar work.

All in all, Scambot 1 features some brilliant ideas and equally mind blowing musicianship. For some, there might not be enough true 'songs' in this set, but if the idea of multiple improvisations and plenty of avant-garde arrangements doesn't bother you, then there's lots to like about this one.

Can't wait to hear the next volume in the trilogy!

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