Wild Mercury Sound

Sir Richard Bishop, Howlin' Rain and more Ethiopiques business

John Mulvey

Nice to see on the responses to my comeback blog that a few of you are sharing the love for the Ethiopiques comps. The Yegelle Tezeta and Girma Beyene tracks mentioned by Citizensound and Tunetourist aren’t on the "Very Best Of Ethiopiques" set, but thanks for the recommendations for Volumes 8 and 9.

Volume 8, "Swinging Addis", is definitely one I planned to check out, thanks to the incredible "Tchero Adari Negn" by Alemayehu Eshete (there are a lot of accents over the vowels in these names, incidentally, but hopelessly I don’t know how to find them in my blogging tools. Sorry!) that has a serious James Brown shunt to it. I also fancy the Mahmoud Ahmed one (Volume 7) and the "Harp Of King David" set (Volume 11).

Girma Beyene is a terrific singer, clearly, and I’m beginning to wonder if "Enken Yelelebesh" here is maybe the track referred to by Tunetourist. Amazing stuff, anyway. As is that new Howlin’ Rain album I’ve been mentioning on and off for the past couple of months. On the same blog, Ben was asking when I’m going to write about it properly. Well, when I got back from holiday I discovered that the record (it’s the other band fronted by Ethan Miller from Comets On Fire – I guess ex-Comets On Fire now) isn’t coming out until early 2008, so I’m holding off for a while.

I can say, though, that there’s a very big Allman Brothers vibe to this one – think "Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More" – and that one track (my copy doesn’t have titles) is an incredible cosmic gospel rave-up that will, I’m sure, blow collective minds when it finally gets out. Sorry to be such a tease.

Anyway, onto today’s record. The Sun City Girls have long been one of those bands I’ve meant to investigate properly, but never got round to. For a lot of the, dread phrase, New Weird American bands I write about a lot, I guess they’re a kind of touchstone, founding fathers of a sort of improvisational, rootsy, pranksterish brand of avant-rock. From what I understand, they used a lot of global influences in their music, too. Oddly, I seem to have a lot of CDs peripherally connected to them: a great out-jam by The Master Musicians Of Bukkake; quite a few of the global field recording CDs ("Streets Of Lhasa", some Sumatran pop, that kind of thing) on their Sublime Frequencies label.

To all that I can add a new solo album by the Sun City Girls’ guitarist, Sir Richard Bishop, called "Polytheistic Fragments". Actually, we should probably call him their ex-guitarist, since a good piece in the new issue of The Wire reveals the band folded in February when their drummer passed away. "Polytheistic Fragments" is mainly a solo guitar record, and as such has a fair few things in common with the whole Takoma/post-Takoma school of fingerpickers that I like a lot, not least an understanding of how American roots music can be effectively cross-bred with the scales and drones of Eastern music.

Bishop goes beyond that, though. For a start, his knowledge of Hindu culture and tradition is clearly a lot deeper than mere aesthetic dabbling; "Saraswati", a lovely piece featuring spare piano and distant drone, has a depth of peacefulness that, for once, fully deserves to be called "meditative".

Better still, quite a lot of "Polytheistic Fragments" works as a showcase for Bishop’s mastery of multiple guitar styles. He can do the John Fahey Americana thing without breaking a sweat, obviously, but it’s the detours that set him above most of his contemporaries. "Quiescent Return" has a faintly medieval tinge that reminds me of John Renbourn, while the exuberant gypsy runs of "Elysium Number Five" are indebted to Django Reinhardt. None of the album is on http://www.myspace.com/sirrichardbishop, but the stuff there should give you a good flavour. Enjoy.


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