Grant Lee Phillips and Jeffrey Clark, natives of California’s San Joaquim Valley, formed Shiva Burlesque in what is now Santa Clarita, 30 miles north of Los Angeles, in 1986. As you can hear from their eponymous debut album, released in 1988 to howls of approval from an enthusiastic fanbase at what used to be Melody Maker, Shiva were in thrall to the looming psychedelia of The Doors and Love. Like the even-better Mercury Blues, which followed in 1990, it’s a record steeped in paranoia and exclamatory dramatics, Clark’s handsome voice (as reminiscent of John Cale’s Baptist boom as it is of Jim Morrison’s stentorian shamanism, to which it is more often compared) pitched against hallucinatory guitars, banks of six-and 12-string luminosity that make this music hum and whirl in often kinetic melodic wonder.
According to Clark’s fascinating sleevenotes, both records were recorded for an absolute pittance. Contrarily, the sound is richer, more deeply absorbing and enduring than almost anything recorded today on 10 times the budget.
This is timeless, brilliant music.