My Mum was a very good piano player. She once gave a piano recital at the Sydney Town Hall (she was Australian). I don’t know if that was a significant music venue but it sounds good. When we lived in London, we had a piano in the house which she would occasionally play with much flair. The piano moved with us to Tunbridge Wells but not to Sevenoaks. She encouraged both my sister and I to take piano lessons but I could never be bothered, too interested in kicking a ball about or practicing my forward defensive in the garage. I wish I had persevered or I wish I hadn’t been such a spoilt little kid who just said no to things that would obviously be good for me. I said no to piano lessons and tomatoes. What a brat.
However, I was a brilliant drummer. Give me two of my Mum’s knitting needles and a chair to thwack against and I made a very satisfying sound. I was pleased to read recently that Ian Gillan’s favourite Deep Purple song was “Child In Time” which, I agree, is very good but he never heard it with my drumming – I could have really showed Ian Paice what true flamboyance meant. I was also very inspired when thwacking along to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and there isn’t a track on “Tommy” that wasn’t enhanced by my playing.
I was reminded of my prowess when reading the review of “I Was Real” in UNCUT. “There’s no denying the ecstatic power of Brown’s deceptively simple, plywood-crate thwackings”. Unfortunately, I don’t think the chair in my bedroom was made of plywood – another feature of my deprived childhood. The main players in 75 Dollar Bill are Che Chen, who plays electric guitar and Rick Brown who plays various percussion instruments, one of which is a plywood crate. All the tracks are instrumentals and up to ten extra people play on different tracks. The album is 78 minutes long but there’s not a wasted second. Che Chen has spent time in Mauritania where he studied with Jeiche Ould Chigaly, who is married to Noura Mint Seymali – she is a highly respected Mauritanian singer, songwriter and instrumentalist. Both of them feature on the “Amadjar”, the latest release by Tinariwen who are a Tuareg band from Northern Mali and have been internationally respected for nearly twenty years. When he returned from studying in Mauratania, he had a guitar fretted in quarter tones. I had no idea what that meant until a minute ago when I read on Wikipedia that most guitars cannot play quarter tones. Che Chen was raised in Maryland by his Taiwanese parents. He said “I realised that every music is ethnic music, so I became interested in Indian, African, Arabic sounds.”
The last paragraph was meant to indicate that the sounds made on this album are unusual. However, it is a very easy listen. Each song is replete with melody and rhythm and maintains interest even on the seventeen minute title track where Karen Waltuch’s amplified viola maintains a drone backing for Che Chen to carve out a beautiful guitar sound. Karen Waltuch has played on albums by Wilco and many other artists I’ve never heard of. She is clearly a highly talented musician who shows empathy for a range of different musical styles. On the following song, WZN#3, her playing recalls John Cale’s playing on “European Son” by The Velvet Underground.
“There’s No Such Thing As A King Bee” is much more uptempo and is, at times, frantic, showcasing Che Chen’s incredible ability. It sounds like it should have been a hit single and in the Sixties, this sort of thing would have gone into the charts to sit alongside “Sabre Dance” by Love Sculpture or even “Peaches en Regalia” by Frank Zappa. It’s much better than those. UNCUT describes how “it features a multiplicity of overlapping and heavily rhythmic, improv guitar, upright bass and amplified viola parts, plus a reassuringly thumping pulse – together, a masterclass in delayed gratification that conjures up a desert ceilidh.”
UNCUT describes the album by saying “Their sound hypnotises in much the same way as a car’s headlights fatally hypnotise a deer: the mesmerism is pure, neuro-physical reaction, not a choice.”
A reassuringly thumping pulse as thwacked out on my bedroom chair. Yes indeed.