Uber-jams, the Civil War and a great leap-forward…
Evolving out of informal jam sessions in late ’90s Brooklyn, Endless Boogie have no image, no Wikipedia page, no careerist long-termism. Instead they have day jobs and a singer who’s 58. At times their free-flowing heavy blues zonk-outs are reminiscent of Green-Kirwan’s Fleetwood Mac stretching out on “Rattlesnake Shake”. Or their grooves can be slow and hypnotic, measured out in an Amon Düül metre. A shorter track (seven minutes rather than 16) will be comparable to ZZ Top, AC/DC or Teenage Head-era Flamin’ Groovies. Not everything the Boogie do is endless.
Their acclaimed albums Focus Level (2008) and Full House Head (2010) juxtaposed head-trips, über-jams and lewd riffs that established rhythm guitarist Jesper Eklow as a true heir to Keith Richards. With hindsight, though, there was a danger of their albums becoming formulaic – particularly with regard to Paul Major’s growling vocalisations – and this is something they seem to have been aware of. Long Island is either their third album or their fifth, depending on whether we include a pair of rare vinyl LPs from 2005. But whatever number you attach to it, Long Island is the point where Endless Boogie learn new skills as producers, exploring different guitar textures and vocal tones, and revealing a hidden interest in the power of words. The American Civil War seems to fascinate them, as do names from history. “The Montgomery Manuscript” (a reference to a 17th century Ulster-Scots chronicle) is an abstruse census of Catherines, Margarets and Olivias, ending with Major carefully enunciating the name of Torbjörn Abelli, a Swedish musician who died in 2010.
“The Montgomery Manuscript” and “The Artemus Ward” (Artemas [sic] Ward was a general in the American War Of Independence) are deep, meditative pieces which Major narrates rather than sings. The effect of his rich, velvety voice reciting passages of text is quite stunning. “The Artemus Ward” begins with a “signalman” who’s “gone wrong”, which immediately summons up scary images from Dickens’ famous ghost story, filmed by the BBC in the ’70s. Then we’re on a “night train to Wiscasset… lantern’s broken”, and General Sherman shows up with Vice President Aaron Burr, two men who almost certainly never met. It’s like a Mercury Theatre broadcast with half the dialogue missing. “The Montgomery Manuscript”, too, is fantastically bizarre, brooding away for 14 sinister minutes while Major intones name after name and a single piano note is struck again and again. Had Endless Boogie not been restricted to the 80-minute confines of a CD (which Long Island just about squeezes into), “The Montgomery Manuscript” might have lasted indefinitely.
Most of the other tracks (there are eight in all) show smaller but still significant changes. “The Savagist”, the 13-minute opener, is a one-chord jam that could have been recorded for Focus Level or Full House Head – except that Major, having exhausted his usual Beefheart-style gruntings and snortings, starts experimenting with the elasticity of his breathing, holding down long groans like Damo Suzuki on “Pinch”. Every so often a noise like a didgeridoo is heard on the right. This is Jesper Eklow operating his wah-wah pedal. Eklow, the boogie in Endless Boogie, is the man whose demon right wrist propels “Taking Out The Trash” and “Imprecations”, fabulously obnoxious stompers. “Imprecations”, especially, is a surging sea of wah-wah and slide: imagine Johnny Winter’s “I’m Yours And I’m Hers” being psychedelically remixed by Loop. Throughout the mammoth Long Island, barely a minute is wasted as Endless Boogie superimpose wild guitars on even wilder ones (“Occult Banker”, “On Cryology”) like Tony McPhee on The Groundhogs’ Split, or go hellbent on punk glory (“General Admission”).
At their age, Major and Eklow are unlikely to be dreaming of rock stardom, but Long Island deserves to find a large, appreciative audience. Instead of backing themselves into a corner and remaining an underground name to drop, Boogie have found an exit door into a universe where infinite collisions of music and language now seem feasible.
Paul Major, aka Top Dollar
How did you make the album?
“We started last February. Our tactic is to go into the studio and record for four or five hours, and then go through looking for interesting stuff. Everything evolves out of jams. The first track, ‘The Savagist’, is entirely live in the studio.”
You have an excellent new vocal style on “The Artemus Ward” and “The Montgomery Manuscript”…
“We tried to go for some atmosphere. All those names, like William Tecumseh Sherman and Aaron Burr, come from Jesper [Eklow, guitar], who’s super-knowledgeable about the Civil War. There’s the imagery of the signalman holding a lantern. Then you’re on 14th Street in Manhattan in the late ’70s. These figures from the Civil War start popping up. We’re bringing the ghosts of the past alive.”
Jesper is one of the great riff writers and rhythm guitarists in rock’n’roll. It’s incredible to think he wasn’t discovered years ago.
“Oh yeah! He’d been in the bands before, but totally for the love of music, not with the ambition of ‘we’re gonna make it’. Jesper’s the core, the focus and the direction of Endless Boogie. I was reading the Neil Young biography Shakey, where he’s talking about Danny Whitten, and he says ‘You’re lucky if you get one guy in your life like this.’ And for me it’s Jesper.”
INTERVIEW: DAVID CAVANAGH
Photo credit Shawn Brackbill