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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mike Cooper - Metal Box

Although he’s been around on record since the late 60s and has played and recorded with any number of musicians with whom I’m familiar, I entirely drew a blank on the name “Mike Cooper”. Somehow, he’d managed, as near as I can recall, to fly absolutely beneath my radar. Credited with having been a key figure in the London blues revival of the 60s (his album, “Trout Steel” seems to be the one to hear), he moved on into free improv, performing with the South African ex-pats in Britain, Steve Beresford, etc. and, with Lol Coxhill and Roger Turner, formed the band, The Recedents. Glad I finally got around to hearing him.

“Metal Box” consists of six more or less improvised pieces for solo National Steel guitar (another guitarist, Tim Catlin, appears on the opening cut), although the results have been greatly augmented post-production with overdubbing, backwards tracks and so on. I admit to being a sucker for the sound of steel-bodied acoustic guitars; that rich, metallic resonance is just so juicy. The album is dedicated to the memory of John Fahey and, indeed, blues allusions are never very far away no matter how abstracted the proceedings otherwise become. A typical piece will have a huge, cavernous bed of sound, out of which scramble crotchety figures, soft pings, reverse-throbs and so on, generally centered (obliquely) around a tonal core. There are, in fact, moments when I think I’d prefer to hear just the guitar, simply played. As attractive as the baroque elaborations are themselves, they occasionally verge on clutter although there’s always a redeeming aspect, such as the plaintive moans that arise from the lonely pulse of “A Big Wave Event”. All misgivings are cast aside on the final, most overtly Faheyesque track, “Last Chant and Dance for Blind Joe Death”. Part dirge, part lament, ultimately a heartfelt if somber celebration, all the disparate elements mentioned above coalesce with grace and purpose into a wonderfully solid paean to the late, great musician.

The disc times in at on a smidgen above a half-hour, but this is a case where the “shortness” seems to be about the right size helping. Nice record.

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