Ashley Macomber & Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Afternoon Book & 10″, 2012

Afternoon frontWe learn from the Black Tent Press website and every other site that repeats promotional blurbs, and now from me once more for good measure, that Macomber’s book of paintings are based on an adaptation of Mallarme’s 1865 poem, “l’apres midi d’un faune” or “Afternoon of a Faun,” and that accompanying the book is a 10” two-track EP by Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, the songs of which seem not to have much, if any, thematic connection with Macomber’s project.  The artwork is nice, the pictures curious things, dreamy obviously, colourful, suggestive, beguiling, and seem related to the basic story of the poem: a faun sleeps and dreams of sexy nymphs, wakes up and questions the difference between dreamed events and reality, gets all caught up in some symbolist rationalization of the senses then eventually falls asleep in pursuit of the dream once more, as you do. The music is suitably dreamy too, seemingly unstructured in the manner of the “Notes For Future Lovers” 7”, so soft it seems to float. If Oldham has used the project for a starting point for his songs, then it’s only the A-side, “I Am A Floozy” that might relate in some way to the Faun and his nymph-chasing dreams.

Afternoon labelI Am A Floozy… drones in on a warm note, a meandering kind of feel. The lyric reads like a first person diary entry—the narrator admits to being a floozy in that “I’ll go with anyone, anyone who smiles at me,” and “I’ll lay by anyone … someone who’s kind to me.”  Oldham sings this close-mic’ed, up loud in the mix, neo-crooner country style. “Let me be the loving kind.” Faint pedal steel guitar tones in the background, the occasional dramatic strum on guitar, with Doug Paisley on backing vocals. (In 2014 Oldham would contribute backing vocals to a Doug Paisley 7″). So then we learn that “you couldn’t count the times and names I’ve laid me down,” that’s how open and free he is. But wait, “when it comes to loving” there is one who “can hold me / But she’s so faraway and can’t come to me.” He ponders whether she’ll ever be more than this and admits to being “happily her one man.” Thus the song seems to separate sex from love. His body is the floozy, “as loose as I, as I can be,” but his mind perhaps, remains faithful. The feel of the song is slow, reflective, everything low low low, deep, solemn, and quietly beautiful. Then the chorus hits with falsettos, soaring harmony, big voiced drama. A few drops of pretty electric guitar noodling towards the end not dissimilar to Matt Sweeney’s work, though here played by Mark Hamilton. Song fades away. Afternoon label

Remember The Terror Time… continues the echo-chamber soulful country feel of “I Am A Floozy” with some very low bass reverberations, and Oldham singing in a soft slightly ominous/melancholy tone. So Oldham, who has been known to appropriate the odd lyric from other sources, or entire songs, as in the case of “Ohio River Boat Song,” takes lines and verses from Ewan MacColl’s “Terror Time” for the first half of this song. Ewan MacColl was, I am informed, “a giant of the British folk revival of the 50s and 60s.” The MacColl song, a folk ballad, was concerned with travelling migrants who brought tales and stories to writers who then turned them into songs and poetry. As the government began to clamp down on these homeless vagrant gypsy-types, their culture was in danger of becoming extinct, although the song refers more specifically to the hardships these people faced during the winter season. The concerned narrator asks the travellers, “Where will you go and what will you do / Now that the work’s all done?” The atmosphere in this song is almost tangible. He reminds us of the winter, “the bracken will fade and the heather will die / The streams will run cold and clear / And the small birds will be going.” So, it’s a tough life for these folk, the sight of which offends the good moral majority, and when they do need “the warmth of some human kind” unfortunately the police will be out there sending them along, back out “on the road again.” These lyrics are all sung over the same low bass and a distant whining guitar note. Oldham’s vocal reminds me of the wonderful “Song To The Siren” by This Mortal Coil. Oldham then marries MacColl’s “Terror Time” to Willie Nelson’s “Remember The Good Times” of whose entire lyric forms the second part of this song. One wonders why these songwriters aren’t credited on the sleeve. The mood changes gear into something more traditionally country—Willie Nelson’s louder, more upbeat and positive lyric all about remembering the good times, even though they’re few in number. The electric guitar joins, and all on board add their voices to the harmonized vocal. If you “spend too much on the bad times / The staggering number will be heavy as lead on your mind.” These are also travellers, or troubadours, who will soon “leave on our own separate journeys” in a westbound direction “to a place very deep in your mind.” Lots of lovely soft oooohs and aaahs and droplets of electric liquid light guitar.

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Apparently there were 1000 copies of this, though I note the website currently says they’re waiting on a new batch to come in. Whether that’s still part of the original 1000 or extra, is not clear. For forty bucks this is a nice little package. The music’s great, the songs worth hearing and the art book, being the main event here, is really quite something. I’ve included the ‘centerfold’ spread below.

Center spread from Afternoon

Center spread from Afternoon

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About Alan Bumstead Vinyl Reviews

Alan Bumstead is a music fanatic who humbly adds confusion to the world with a string of album reviews written during real-time-listening in a stream-of-consciousness style, then edited for spelling, punctuation, flow and grammar. Apart from an additional introductory paragraph, the writing is improvised in time with the music. There is no re-writing. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In his book Moving To Higher Ground Wynton Marsalis says, "Because jazz musicians improvise under the pressure of time, what's inside comes out pure. It's like being pressed to answer a question before you have a chance to get your lie straight. The first thought is usually the truth." I like to think that's what Alan Bumstead's all about.
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