Acoustic Ladyland - Skinny Grin
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Don’t be expecting a barrel of laughs, but it’s worth repeating what the girl serving me where I bought it told me, “This is the best album I’ve heard all year!”.
There’s no doubting it is a great follow up to Last Chance Disco and now on their third album, the punk-rock jazzers have got their transfer to a major label. The usual question then, have the big advances, high profile exposure and interviews in the national press come at the cost of a commercialisation of their material?
I’d have to say no on the evidence of the first few tracks, especially the opener ‘Road of Bones’. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by the intro as it explodes into hard rockin’ noise, mixed with the superb saxophone playing of frontman Pete Wareham. On ‘New Me’ it’s more like experimental punk-jazz, a two minute 22 second trash out. I can’t help thinking that this is what Albert Ayler would be at if he were alive today; check ‘Your Shame’.
One of the benefits of being signed by V2 is that they ask you things like, “Who would you like to work with?” Luckily, they said James Chance who was in no wave pioneers Teenage Jesus and the Jerks with Lydia Lunch. Chance (aka White aka Black) is the link between Ayler and Acoustic Ladyland. In the late 70s, Chance was the man that made jazz cool again and hopefully with this introdution to a new audience, the kids will check out his back catologue.
Another guest, is a mix by Scott Walker on a real belter ‘Salt Water’. What you also notice on this album is the number of vocal tracks, like ‘Paris’ (Alice Grant) and ‘Cuts & Lies’ (Coco Electrik) while on the second half of the album Wareham sings on most of the tracks including the title track ‘Skinny Grin’.
And even though Wareham does most of the writing (often with his wife Maxine), you could never say this is a one-man band. Tom Cawley’s keyboards sound more sixties garage rock than punk and the drums (Seb Rochford) and bass (Tom Herbert) are as impressive as ever.
Mr. Wareham is also a member of the F-IRE Collective and the more ‘straight ahead’ jazz band, Polar Bear. It was one of the most memorable moments for me this year having a chat with him after their set at Wynchwood Festival. Resolution for 2007, must see Acoustic Ladyland live.
So if you still listen to Peel’s perennial favourites The Fall (I spotted ‘How I Wrote Elastic Man’ in Biggabush’s box last week!), are into freeform sixties jazz, love a touch of Matthew Herbert’s Scale and the offbeatness of Robert Wyatt, this album is for you.
The result then is a “commercial” avant-guard punk jazz-rock album, V2 have got their monies worth and if you ask me (or the girl in Fopp), it’s a winner.
Hectic Mix nomination: ‘Cuts & Lies’, ‘Glass Agenda’, ‘That Night’, ‘The Room’, ‘Hitting Home’
Reviewed: Acoustic Ladyland — Skinny Grin (V2 Records, Inc). Cat. No: VVR1043688 Release date: 27th Nov 2006
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