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Dredd Foole - Kissing the Contemporary Bliss

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Artist: Dredd Foole

Album: Kissing the Contemporary Bliss

Label: Family Vineyard

Review date: Jul. 21, 2008

How serious is Dan Ireton, a.k.a. Dredd Foole? With a pseudonym like that, we should always be on guard. Are cosmic knee-slappers his bag, or is ironic commentary? Impossible to say really, especially when he collaborates with Vermont-based duo Matt Valentine and Erika Elder. At the start of this century, the three produced a series of CD-Rs, released at the time on Valentine and Elder’s micro-label Child of Microtones, that feature a mash-up of the secular and the sacred, the comic and the cosmic. It’s this collision of modes that destabilizes their music in ways both good and bad.

And when this two-disc reissue of sets from 2003 and 2004 is good, it is very good. Foole’s wild, unpredictable vocals and aggressive acoustic guitar strumming are the perfect clay for Matt Valentine’s Spectrasound treatment. On the first disc’s opener “Dog Star Waltz,” Foole’s voice undulates wildly, blending with the drifting strings and synths that Valentine phases, pans and echoes wildly across the stereo channels. Together, they show how plastic sound, as well as form, can be. Every single tone becomes an unstable atom, ready to be fissioned into radical new forms. The Blues, a base element of their mix, are transformed from direct complaint to ecstatic supplication to a polyglot, many-faced deity of their own imagining. “Above Ground Friend” and “Light at the Ditch Of a Spoonful” transverse their own dimension, oblivious to gravity, converging for flashes of groove, then dissipating, charged with new energy.

Where Foole and Co. misstep is when they turn their rays on known material. On the Foole Family Vineyard reissue from 2007, Daze on the Mount, the trio investigated a similar line, blasting apart rock tunes from the likes of J. Mascis and Arthur Lee. These pieces worked, probably because the source materials were raw and electric to begin with. Here, Foole, Valentine and Elder mutate a Robert Johnson blues, a Washington Phillips gospel performance and two Bob Dylan tunes, none of which come off well. Only one of these reworkings is successful, the 11-minute romp through jug band legend Gus Cannon’s “Walk Right In.”

Blues, gospel and folk songs are forms that are themselves raw, but they are also brittle, mostly in the messages they convey. It’s these messages that Foole rides roughshod over, most prominently on the Phillips song, “I Was Born To Preach The Gospel,” rendered here as “I Wuz Born.” The original was a statement of purpose by a deeply religious man; this cover comes off as disrespectful, if not mocking, as Foole applies his vocal gymnastics to singing the title, and little else. Just as playing the head of a Thelonious Monk tune doesn’t count as re-interpreting it, taking one or two lines from a song and then casting them into an echoing mass of guitars doesn’t count as re-inventing it. I don’t think Foole meant to mock Phillips, but it sure sounds that way.

Sprawled across two discs, the messy, allusive nature of the Foole / MV&EE mind-meld shows itself to be gold in some places, pock-marked and problematic in others. It also begs two final questions. If they’re winking at something, what exactly are they winking at? Easy cosmic/mystic atmospheres, the folk tradition, or their own appropriation of both? Or, are they winking at all?

By Matthew Wuethrich

Other Reviews of Dredd Foole

A Long, Losing Battle with Eloquence and Intimance

Daze on the Mounts

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