(by Bob Tarte, published in The Beat magazine, Volume 16, Number 1, 1996)
I first got the hankering to visit West Virginia 20 years ago while reading The Mothman Prophecies, John A. Keel's true account of flying saucer sightings, leathery skinned winged beings with and without heads, telepathic contacts with the planet Lanulos, and paranormal telephone calls all centered around the Ohio River city of Point Pleasant. I'd also heard the rumor that the Ohio Valley, which is peppered with the remains of prehistoric earthworks, was shunned as haunted by Indians of the region, so naturally I wanted to go. While I never did make it to Point Pleasant due to the constant threat of drizzle--plus a travel itinerary focused on zoos, big rocks, big holes, chiropractors, waterfalls, glass factories, decrepit coal towns, parrots and piglets--I saw enough of West Virginia to determine that haunted ain't the half of it.
Linda and I left Lowell in good spirits, having entrusted care of our menagerie to a woman with a Wood Duck house-pet named Cheesy, who joins her in bed each night and enjoys a daily treat of lettuce morsels floated in the upstairs bathtub. Our first taste of West Virginia was claustrophobic Moundsville, aptly named for the Grave Creek Mound in the center of town, a 2000-year-old, 70-foot-tall burial mound that's one of the few remnants of a vast complex of earthen rings, mounds, causeways, effigy sites and ramparts throughout the western part of the state and southern Ohio. In the dark and curiously barren Adena-culture museum at the postage-stamp-size Grave Creek Mound State Park, I found a new brochure advertising tours of the not-unattractive prison just across the street and an invitation to "sit in the electric chair where dozens of men paid for their crimes." From the top of the Grave Creek Mound, I could just barely see inside a cell facing the park where a thoughtful felon stroked his beard and pondered the irony of State-scripted processions to the grave in the shadow of the largest indigenous burial monument in the country.
Beneath an obelisk helpfully indicating the cardinal compass points, visitors to the mound's summit had deposited offerings of apples, tobacco, a small bird's nest, and scraps of red cloth. "Is that politically correct?" an East Coast wag asked us. "Don't touch that!" I hollered instead to Linda as she raised a packet of aromatic tobacco to her nose. I had visions of being waylaid on the mountain drive to New Vrindaban by the ghost of an angry shaman willing to kill anyone who messed with his smokes or looked sideways at him in the prison laundry. Both Linda and I agreed that the mound emanated a feeling of a mysterious elsewhere, but I thought the whole region felt the same, permeated with an ancient and ruined aura that made even the newest buildings seem laughably tentative.
I wonder if the Hare Krishna bigwigs who commissioned the Golden Palace would agree. Billed in my West Virginia travel guide as "the American Taj Mahal," the Golden Palace is a garish, sprawling building outside the burg of Limestone that attempts to recreate the timeless majesty of Hindu temples while soft-soaping the darker aspects of the New Vrindaban community. Built by the volunteer slave labor of converts to the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) cult partially housed in Soweto-style barracks down the road, the Palace pulled us in with its delicious Imperial Elephant vegetarian restaurant and colossal statues of Krishna and his consorts set against the fundamentalist mountain landscape. "How do you get around when it snows here?" I asked our twenty-something waiter, recalling how long it took us to drive the 15 miles of winding roads from Moundsville in sunny weather. "We use the oxcarts to go to the other buildings," he replied, reinforcing my suspicion that these servants of the ancient gods don't get out much.
The smell of incense took us to the Palace Gift Shop, where clerk number 000461 (according to our sales receipt) was nodding and swaying to devotional music, eyes clamped shut. "Sorry to disturb your meditation," Linda told him when we couldn't find the trinkets we sought. "I wasn't meditating, I was sleeping," he insisted to our befuddlement. Isn't it usually the other way around--initiates caught sleeping claim to be meditating? I don't blame him for shutting his eyes, however, since the promulgated dietary and spiritual purity of the New Vrindaban religious community is haunted by the corruption of the man who was one of its leaders until recently. Keith Gordon Ham, also known as Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada, was convicted in 1995 of racketeering and mail fraud. Say aum, somebody.
As long as I hung with the free-range, bell-wearing cows, I never felt in mortal danger at New Vrindaban, which is more than I can say for the factory tour of the Fenton Glass Company in Williamston. Our guide threaded us through a maze of archaic kilns spewing impressive heat through their open doors while workers a few feet away clad in the safety equipment we lacked put the finishing touches on stylized cat statues with blowtorches. Fluttering her fingers, our guide smilingly indicated we might want to step back as an employee bore down on us with a flesh-searing, freshly molded globe for a lighting fixture. As I wandered around scantily supervised shooting photos, I considered the massive lawsuits against the company that were continually just a stumble away. The real horror was in the Fenton Glass Factory Outlet Store, however, where opalescent glass pigs you'd find in the $2 bin at a flea market boasted a price of $29. A resin cast gnome marked down from an alleged $1250 to a still exorbitant $52 demanded that I summon a sales clerk for an explanation. My wife had bought a figure from the same gnome family in northern Michigan for about $10, I told her. She removed the little demon with apologies, but another clerk brought it right back, telling me a connoisseur of gnomic art had indeed paid $1250 for the figure in collecting circles. So the price tag stood.
Possibly the oddest event of the trip occurred on the day that started in Ripley--believe it or not--when we needed to find a chiropractor to straighten out Linda's back. The man who performed the adjustment at the Ripley Chiropractic Center wasn't the regular doctor, but a chiropractic freelancer who roamed the state filling in where he was needed. In towns even smaller than Ripley, I envisioned him operating from a cot in his van at the Walmart parking lot. That same afternoon, at Sandstone Falls in the New River Gorge area we ran into a nicely dressed senior citizen couple from nearby Hinton. In the course of our conversation, the husband spoke excitedly about a farm down the road that operated under a charter to the British crown from colonial days. At his repeated urging, we finally, inexplicably, promised to drop in on the "bachelor farmers" to see a brand new litter of piglets. "Just tell them the Elkins sent you," he instructed us. "They won't mind if you take pictures of the pigs," he added, implying this was the expected thing to do.
The royally chartered farm wasn't the well-preserved, neat-as-a-pin, historical site I had expected, but an old banged-up house surrounded by impoverished out-buildings, skittish chickens, discarded autos--one displaying a pair of legs from beneath the dashboard--and dour family members who greeted our request to see the piglets with the same degree of confusion as to what we were doing there that I had begun to feel. We ooh-ed and ahh-ed appropriately at the healthy litter. I snapped the requisite photos as Linda posed a few questions about the recent birthing. But our rapport with our hosts broke down when Linda pointed to the mama pig and asked, "What's her name?" The farmer shook his head in amazement. "Hell, I ain't namin' that ol' hog." At that, I tugged my wife into our car. It may not have been a sighting of the mothman, but the scene was scary enough for me.
One of the first discs to catch my interest this time was a collection of foreign language songs and vocalizations that probably doesn't qualify as world music, since the performers are nonhuman. Notes From the Wild, another book/cd combo from the ellipsis arts label, features six natural sound compositions by Bernie Krause built from his field recordings under often harrowing circumstances. Nature recordings per se haven't engaged me before this, but there are a couple of good reasons for recommending these. This first is that Krause doesn't simply set up his microphones and nod off to sleep with a completed track in the can.
The cut "Amazon Nights," for example, consists of 100 tracks of individual sounds that took him six months to mix. The result is, in effect, an artificial construct that replicates the sense if not the literal truth of a peak aural experience in the bush near Manaus, Brazil, especially since the track compresses the span of dusk to dawn into just over ten minutes. Against a slowly changing background of insects, frogs and mammals, a motor-mouthed howler monkey establishes the main motif in Krause's assemblage, and the jaguar that surprised him on a late night walk with snorts and snarls in his microphone makes an impressive soloist.
In the 96-page hard cover book-part of the Notes package--nicely designed to resemble a trail guide Euell Gibbons might have carried in his backpack along with slabs of edible bark--Krause writes of following classical music forms such as the sonata allegro or rondo in creating these pieces. While I can't hear this structure after a half-dozen listenings, his point is well taken. According to my former real estate agent, the three major factors that influence musical composition are location, location, and location. A few cds in recent years have made mention of melodies and rhythms drawn directly from animal vocalizations in the traditional music of Bali, Malaysia, and the pygmy peoples of central Africa. Throw in dances modeled after animal behavior, and you've got a phenomenon that touches the indigenous peoples of every populated country in the world (with the arguable exception of Vatican City).
This makes Krause's sonatas drawn from rain forests, mountain-gorilla habitats, the Mexican Sonora Desert, and the Glacier Bay Arctic region good fodder for thought and good listening, too, for us foreign language-music lovers in the temperate zones--while the "Green Meadow Stream" recording stocked with birds and bugs that I hear in my swampy homestead four months a year will probably open ears of listeners in cities, tundra, tropical islands, and jail cells. I'm not sure what the world music ramifications are of "A Gift from the Sea," constructed from fish and marine mammal mutterings, but it did give me the idea of installing Krause in my own house and challenging him to base a composition around the sounds of passing 18-wheelers, parrot squawks, phone machine messages from record label flacks, my wife's singing, the scratching of chipmunks and bats inside our walls, modem-connect buzzing, snarling face-offs between our cats, and my recurrent snoring.
You'd think a roly-poly, jolly jowled gent such as myself would be a sucker for the world musical comedy of Texan hi-jinxsters Brave Combo. A Japanese-language ondo version of "Volare" with guest vocalist Kikusuimaru neatly sums up my ambivalence --ditto a skewed Latin rendering of The Music Explosion's "Little Bit of Soul" and a cartoon soundtrack "Tales from the Vienna Woods" that Spike Jones might have concocted. Such whimsical revisions sail right over my head when the unintended ridiculousness of the originals reign supreme. Happily, the parodies are but a small chunk of Mood Swing Music (Rounder), a catch-all for the combo's export tracks, leftovers, and odds and ends from other projects that for all the dizzying diversity holds up as a segmented whole. Carl Finch and company comprise what may be the most versatile band in the world, hopping without batting an eye from straight-ahead conjunto with tejano legend Tony De La Rosa ("Besos Besitos") to acting as straight-men for Tiny Tim's vaudevillian vampirism of a Beatles' classic on the title track of last year's head-spinning Girl cd.
A world music pundit once told me of the 3 Mustaphas 3, whom Brave Combo somewhat resemble, "The better they get, the worse they get," meaning that as the Mustaphas outgrew their Balkanite shtick they had nowhere else to go. While Brave Combo's lack of an instantly discernible identity from song to song and style to style tips the band toward novelty act status, the sheer complexity of their constructions provides ample saving grace. One of my favorite messes is "Burn Slow" (from a collaborative album with former Washington Square Lauren Agnelli), which launches as an uncharacteristically serious if neurotic love song. As "Burn Slow" progresses, however, the underlying creepiness of the lyrics is accented by haunted house backing vocals and minor-key B-movie Casio note-bends bouncing off a clarinet section repeating an ironic tango fragment--all underplayed just enough to undermine the earnestness of the vocalist without eviscerating her.
The insistence on fun in other songs is so emphatic, that a para-passion standing in for genuine emotion compels me anyway. The deceptively sedate "Three Ducks Waltz" which opens the disc reappears throughout Mood Swing like a serial killer in different guises, first as wailing klezmer ("Three Ducks Polka"), then later as ondo and chachacha. "Heggard's Polka," a Scandinavian ditty, is too breathlessly fast for any reaction but amazement, and "Come Back to Sorrento" saves a kitschy Italian chestnut from the hell of a Latin disco remake with furious chops to the midsection. The wordy songs are catchy, too. The fat mambo "Skin" fleshes out an addled poem by retirement village resident, the late Ernest Noyes Brooking (of Duplex Planet zine fame), while "Always Vienna" spares not the tuba in augmenting the last words of Sigmund Freud in a cornball waltz. Though often too clever for its own good, Mood Swing leapfrogs its constant ability to irritate with hit and run abandon and plenty of imagination.
I've been hearing ads on the radio for a high-tech apparatus housed in a pair of headphones that masks low frequency noise on airplane flights, subways, etc., by sending an inverted version of that noise to your ears. The wave pattern of the artificially generated sound is 180-degrees out of sync with the source to mix with and effectively cancel the offending sound. Here's a cheaper alternative to this $200 unit. Tibet: The Heart of Dharma (ellipsis arts) contains over an hour's worth of guttural, groaning, droning chants by Tibetan Buddhist monks that even at low volume through my Sony Discman eradicate questions from my co-workers, ringing phones, computer error beeps, angry knocks on my office door, traffic noise and swearing.
I was never tempted to concentrate on other discs of Tibetan monks that record labels have sent me, but the presentation of a typically attractive ellipsis arts cd-sized, full-color, 64-page hard-cover book plus disc seduced me. The gravely, basso profundo voice which opens most tracks reminds me why I've resisted this music before, though it is interesting as an example of throat singing close to the eerie, strangely popular kargyraa style of the Tuvans of the Siberian steppe. But a funny thing happened once I decided to forget that human pipes were generating these bizarre timbres and concentrate on the sound itself. The rich blend of voices does indeed evoke a sense of well-being, most notably the lowest frequencies which undoubtedly affect the same neutral transmitters as my beloved anti-anxiety prescription Zoloft medication. You might say there's a quiet magnificence to these musically simple, harmonically complex rituals, and the slow rising of fundamental pitch over several minutes provides just enough development that an attentive listener is all but forced to slow down the usual hook-seeking mechanisms of musical enjoyment and plug into an altogether different time-frame that eschews capsule gratification for less immediately obvious paybacks. That said, any single track on Dharma by the monks of Drepung Monastery struck me as interchangeable with any other, though "Tsedrup" from the Khampagar Monastery includes bracing shawm, bass trumpet and drum orchestration.
Like a fiction writer who's lost the taste for narrative, in his last cd, Big Map Idea (ECM), Wisconsin guitarist Steve Tibbetts all but discarded the elements most of us would consider essential to music--melody, rhythm and recognizable development. Instead, he tied his abstract compositions to urban field recordings of crowd noises, fireworks displays, unusual acoustical conditions, etc., then erased those source recordings from the final mix to triple the obscurity factor. Since Tibbetts is a man enthralled by the sound of a single strummed chord vibrating in space, his love of the sheer physicality of music makes a perfect marriage with the disembodied songs of Tibetan nun Choying Drolma on Cho (Hannibal/Rykodisc).
The centuries-old ditties which Tibbetts accompanies on sporadic guitar, synthesizer and percussion include chants for meditation, spontaneous songs of realization and teremas brought back from the Other World. That his response to this material is instrumental backing of incredibly subtlety if not sensitivity indicates he's probably broken through a dimension of Drolma's performances that eludes me, though the compositions are quite pretty if you approach them with enough patience. On "Kyema Mimin" he surprises by wrapping a multi-tracked chant in uncharacteristically forward cymbal taps and drums, but for much of the disc he lets long silences unwind behind Drolma's resonant, quavering vocals before adding a single note or chord of his own or feeding back to her a processed sample of her own voice. Often, you can't tell which is which, because the accompaniment favors the shadows behind Drolma. On "Ngani Troma Part 1," however, where the instrumentation is vivid, it doesn't hurt to think of the sing-song vocal as a stand-in for percussion and concentrate on Tibbett's shimmering figures as the flesh playing against ancient bones. But overall the match between the collaborators strikes a perfect balance, most notably on "Kangyi Tengi" which veers toward a Marta Sebestyn take on Balkan, Celtic and Carnatic styles, and "Shengshik Pema Jungney," where Tibbett's psycho-acoustic alchemy transports Tibetan material to a Gothic Christian space. Though I'm fundamentally baffled by Cho, I'm also compelled to keep going back to it.
It took me embarrassingly long to decide why Corsica (Tinder Records) by Petru Guelfucci is such a remarkably odd pop record. There's not a drumbeat on it. There are acoustic and electric guitars, synthesizer, and electronic processing bathing everything in a misty bloom, but not so much as handclap. I can see Guelfucci's logic, since the absence of a percussive anchor launches his operatic, thrown vocal style into the chilly romantic ether without a tether. Like Tenores Di Bitti in the neighboring Mediterranean island of Sardinia, Guelfucci plays with a traditional polyphonic vocal style that, despite French claim to the island, has a decided Italian cast both in the shape of the Corsican language and the projection of a heroic melancholy.
But aside from a single song, the examples of polyphony are intermittent, and when they occur they read as a dramatic device for thickening Guelfucci's beautiful solo voice in cut after cut of exceptional melodies you can ride all the way to edge of the known world. He plants deep hooks within the uncluttered arrangements as well, none coming faster than the toy piano that occurs in the first moments of the wrenching "Piuvia" never to recur. It's pop mastery at its best, with several nods to flamenco and a slip-sliding electric guitar opening to "I Detti Di U Ventu" that could be Quebecois Innu group Kashtin, until Guelfucci lets loose. And that's my problem with this disc. While the pop vocabulary shifts from song to song, Guelfucci's vocals stay the same, as if he's pining for a genre that does him justice. After a few songs, the dogged quest for creative instrumentation seems like an unnecessary journey. For a neck-hair-bristling slice of what might have been, check out the exhibition of undiluted Corsican polyphony on the traditional-based "I Detti Di U Ventu." Compared to this cut, with its flat-out emotion and unfettered multi-tracked epiglottis, all else on this fine disc seems tame.
"Tuulilta Tuleva," the blindingly bright track that opens Varttina's Kokko (Nonesuch), implicitly poses the question: can you stand an entire cd of a hoedown version of Abba in overdrive? Depending on your mood, the band's penchant for cheery massed vocals can strike the ear as either angelic or shrill. While I've previously celebrated the delicious campiness of the ten-piece Finnish roots-pop group's attempt to fold fringes of funk into their Arctic dancing circle, and occasionally cringed at the five-piece estrogen-delivery system of lead and back-up singers, the short, sharp and focused Kokko hones the midnight sunners to a laser beam of strengths.
After four previous American releases, the male-dominated instrumental yang side is strong enough to hold its own with Varttina's yawning ocean of yin, even earning a song of its own this time, the furious violin meltdown "Pyry." Even better, the instrumental oomph keeps the listener's attention shifting between the vocal maelstrom and assorted accordions, fiddles, keyboards, reeds, guitars, percussion and, for the first time ever, drum loops that turn the clipped syllables and mad repetition of "Iro" into an unfathomable Finno-Urgic rap which switches gears often enough to keep the toasting tantalizing. Of all the immaculate conceptions on Kokko, the most inspiring may be "Halla" with its dervish riff, hey-yeah goose herding calls, klezmer and EZ jazz sax figures, and a funky horn caesura which stops everything in its tracks. A close second is the more sedate "Merten Kosijat" built around a lopsided frame drum pattern and Kate Bush vocal stylings. Kokko is a knockout.
The polar opposite of Kokko is the almost rhyming Iho (Hannibal/Rykodisc), which is so subdued in spots you can hear a Finn drop-or at least the clicking of the stops on Maria Kalaniemi's five-row, free-bass accordion. Joining her on these intimate but animated excursions into folk, jazz, chamber music, pop and the inevitable tango are fellow members of the Sibelius Academy's folk music department from eclectic Finnish bands Aldargaz and JPP on guitars, piano, harmonium, violins, kantele and other instruments. No matter that that "Green Score," composed by Timo Alakotila (and part of a larger work he composed and arranged for big band), sounds so much like an imaginary TV theme songs, I can see the montage of moody young professionals over a Helsinki high-rise, it's still a perfect piece of northern music whose expressive detachment warms the room like feeble fireplace embers. The real payoff comes in graceful arrangements of traditional Finnish songs, such as "Slingerdansin" and "Sofias Flykt," or anything where guitarist Olli Yaris backs Kalaniemi by throwing tricky chords all over the fretboard.
From the cover cartoon of the Progmatics cd depicting a trenchcoated bovine, I guessed that the title Vaarallinen Lehmankello (OMCD) meant "secret agent cow," but the reality, "Lethal Cowbell," seemed equally cryptic--until I discovered it referred to the converted cowshed at the Sibelius Academy (what else) where these free-floating tunes were recorded. The performances are as tight as the teeth of a comb that the skin-headed three-quarters of this combo never need. The punk attitude isn't manifested as speed folk, however, since a good part of Finland's folk music cannon is already a blur. Instead, a crazy sense of repetition gives "Suite Orientale" a too-long-on-the-merry-go-round momentum, while the band injects a clockwork framework into the organ bubbles and sax of the furtive title cut. Plus, the flat-footed vocal to "Hannun Hambo" make presumed influence Kraftwerk's Florian Schneider into a golden throated virtuoso by comparison. Nothing earthshaking here, just your average musical geniuses cutting up their country's tradition, and the headless chicken riff of the plucky "Finn Reel" suggests the cover art for next time. (Olarin Musiiki Oy, P.O. Box 20, FIN-02211 Espoo, Finland).
Through weak and strong releases alike, the packaging of ellipses arts label recordings has usually been impeccable. But the container gurus must have nodded approval in their sleep for Jali Kunda, a fat, glossy-covered boxed set containing not three, not four, not even five, but a single, solitary cd swimming in cardboard plus a soft-cover book the size of a National Geographic. What's wrong with the hardcover-book plus inside-back-cover slipcased disc format that the label's used for its last slew of recordings? When I stumble across an illustrated cardboard box in a cd store, I take the cover admonition "Book and Compact Disc" with the proverbial grain of salt, expecting to find an absolute minimum of two discs inside, especially when the subject matter warrants it. And Jali Kunda does.
As you'll probably learn elsewhere in this issue, this project is the result of Mandingo Griot Society founder Foday Musa Suso's return to his roots in Senegambia, and his Bill Laswell-produced collaboration with extended family members on kora, balafon, nyanyer one-stringed fiddle, and percussion. The disc also features three experimental tracks with Philip Glass, Pharaoh Sanders, and the Griot Society (in remix) that seem out of place interspersed with the traditional pieces. A two disc set would have made more sense, one devoted to the Jali tradition, another showcasing innovation. Considering Suso's long personal history of crafting successful African fusion music with Herbie Hancock, Laswell and others, it's surprising that the modern pieces seem tentative. Only "Spring Waterfall" featuring Phillip Glass on massed keyboards resists being eclipsed by the traditional songs, primarily because, rather than trying to match their raw intensity, Glass opts for locking into a hypnotic rhythm with one of his trademarked repetitive musings. "Samma," a jam with jazz saxophone legend Pharaoh Sanders, is provocative, but feels like a precursor to more developed pieces that fail to follow.
The roots music chunk of Jali Kunda is some of the strongest griot material on record. From the first few seconds of the first track, "Allah I'aake" ("God's Will"), the energy bristles and never lets up throughout the beautifully mixed field recordings. Calling the acoustic material traditional is a bit of a misnomer unless you accept the fluidity of tradition, since my favorite track here, "Mariama," boasts a wicked nyanyer riff backed by the unusual addition of drums. This piece is so powerful, I'm grateful for Robert Palmer's introduction to the book which reminds me that much of traditional-based African music can only be understood when its divinatory and magical aspects are taken into consideration. In "Mariama" and in other cuts that feature the ecstatic Mandinka vocal style you either love or hate, depending on your tolerance for over-the-top emotional expression, the spiritual dimension is unmistakable. And so is the connection to American blues and gospel. Jali Kunda is one-half of a wonderful release that suffers from the grab-bag production approach that I thought ellipsis arts had finally outgrown.
"So that's the macarena!" a waggish co-worker taunted me as I was playing "Banda Yango" from Tshala Muana's Mutuashi (Sterns) at the office the other day. "Bob's listening to the macarena." While Muana's collaboration with Cuban musicians soars far above this insult and hits darned exciting peaks at times, including Dally Kimoko's chiming guitar solo in said song, failure to fling itself whole hog into the Zairean-Cuban connection and a bit of murk in the mix keeps Mutuashi on the back burner. Muana is a terrific songwriter with an appealing vocal style that likes to pile syllables ahead of the rhythm, but the inevitable call to "mutashi" in the instrumental section of most songs plus a few too many ululations ground on me as much as the lackluster horn parts. Cranking Mutuashi at loud volume surmounts the majority of these shortcomings, but all-in-all the soukous, mutuashi, and Cuban son hopscotch fails to deliver a numbing blow to the head.
You'd think a group called Edward the Second and the Red Hot Polkas would pretty much play polka music. You'd also expect Two Step to Heaven to be an overlooked classic for Cooking Vinyl to just now reissue this 1989 British release in America. Wrong on both counts, kapusta breath! In the tradition of more inspired English two-tone acts like the Specials, Edward and company concentrate on dubwise, reggoid renditions of retro dance music. My favorite cut, "Jenny Lind," is a mbaqanga-ish, rock steady thing with sampled snippets of a raver trying to get his girl out on the floor for another dance, but you need a high-power lens to set the backing track apart from the one on the rock steady song that follows, "Pomp and Pride." Though it features a peppy accordion and appealing slide guitar and horn arrangement, "Untitled Polka" is one hundred percent reggae, as is "Bjorn Again Polka." "Lover's Two Step" is actually the old one-drop with Augustus Pablo-style melodica, but "The Queen's Jig" is recognizably a jig animated by pinball dub effects. All in all, a nice enough disc, but not quite nice enough to warrant the reissue unless someone from Edwardland has vaunted over my head to stellar fame. Still, where the hell's the polka? Or where's the joke?
Hoping to get a fix on why this disc is reappearing now, I posed the question to London club-scene expert and disintegrating DJ, The Beat's "Hey, Mr. Music" columnist, Dave Hucker (see "Hey, Mr. Holm"). But, enervated from an all-night fete playing Italian-language disco tracks, Spanish sub-Morricone film soundtracks and Martin Denny lps (all the way through, both sides) in a dirty seaside pub in Brighton, Hucker was a little vague in his response. "Do I know Edward the Second and the Red Hot Polkas?" he demanded over transatlantic phone lines. "I don't know whether Edward the Second was the king known as Edward the Confessor, or whether he's related to Chilly Willie and the Red Hot Peppers. 1989 was a bit of a blur, as far as I can remember. Maybe they are a famous indie/Britpop combo now," he blathered. "Maybe someone thought it was a good idea at the time." Then, as Hucker clamped his hand over the mouthpiece to shush someone, I heard a gravely voice in the background that sounded like, of all people, my fair-weather friend the Whale. But it couldn't be.