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by Univers Zero
Cuneiform Records, Silver Spring, MD, 2006
CD, Rune 220, $13
Distributor’s website: http://www.cuneiformrecords.com

The Legend of Vernon McAllister

by Richard Leo Johnson
Cuneiform Records, Silver Spring, MD, 2006
CD, Rune 222, $13
Distributor’s website: http://www.cuneiformrecords.com

Reviewed by Michael R. (Mike) Mosher
Saginaw Valley State University


There is to music to help you relax, and there's music to wind you up. Richard Leo Johnson's The Legend of Vernon McAllister features inventive recording and multi-tracking of a tried-and-true single guitar. Univers Zero's LIVE is a concert recording of a jazzy rock band with instrumentation friendly to classical music.

Richard Leo Johnson (www.richardleojohnson.com) uses a National Duolian steel-bodied acoustic guitar from the1930s on cuts on this CD. He created these compositions to evoke a fictional life of its previous owner,(www.vernonmcallister.com) unknown in all but name, and subsequently gets a variety of sounds out of Vernon's steely old ax. "Quarter-Tone Soldiers Marching on the Mill" is over in a quick 48 seconds, with heavy hand-banging Metal rock bass lines and sawing strings. "First Night Alone" uses lazy slidework and a low, froglike detuned string. "Briar Patch Harmony" is layered and processed into something eerie and theremin––or harmonium-like––tape loops as paisley as George Harrison's "Wonderwall". It's followed by countrified porch playing of "Uncertain Weather", and other tunes pleasantly conducive to summer afternoon in a hammock, like the sprightly "Side Road to Splendor". Almost a madrigal, "Everything is Beautiful and Sad" has delicate finger-picking that sounds like a dulcimer.

Led by drummer-percussionist Daniel Denis, the Belgian jazz-rock group Univers Zero (www.univers-zero.com) sets a different mood. With only a few longeurs (like the appropriately-named "Méandres"), Univers Zero's concert recording can be stimulating and effervescent, a Sunday morning mimosa with tangy orange juice. "Falling Rain Dance" features violin, urbane and industrious, sparkling keyboard. The most appealing cut is "Kermesse Atomique", with its early twentieth century classical Stravinsky clockworks. The mercurial "Bonjour Chez Vous" repeats a purposeful duhn-dadunh-dadunh piano motif as its brickwork. "Electronika Mambo Musette" organ noodling with a certain richness to circus music horns by reedsmen Michael Buckmans and Kurt Budé. "Civic Circus" spins cinematic variations in a clockworks meshing contrapuntal bass, keys and reeds. "Xenantaya", at nearly 13 minutes, whips up a rousing fusion of reeds, piano and Brian Auger-style organ, and big rock drums in interesting time signatures. One imagines Emerson, Lake and Palmer's Prog Rock of three decades ago, seasoned with Frank Zappa's guitar. Growing portentous, towards its end "Xenantaya" evokes Roman legions proceeding to battle atop mastodons or glyptodonts; a wake-up call indeed.




Updated 1st January 2006

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