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Loren Connors & Jim O’Rourke - Two Nice Catholic Boys

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Artist: Loren Connors & Jim O’Rourke

Album: Two Nice Catholic Boys

Label: Family Vineyard

Review date: Mar. 12, 2009

The first impression this duo recording gives is one of rootlessness. And it’s not just the indifference to place the track titles express – "Maybe Paris," "Or Possibly Koln,"Most Definitely Not Koln," – or the ambiguity in the sleeve note statement, "Recorded at various places n Europe, 1997." Rather, it is in the restless flow of the three extended performances, ranging as they do from soughing clouds of distortion and crunching riffs to blues abstractions, gentle melodic breakdowns and studies in amplifier-hum that constantly threaten to sublimate into pure ambiance.p

Considering the pedigree of the players involved though, this rootlessness shouldn’t come as a surprise. Throughout their careers, both Connors and O’Rourke have been driven by their own restless demons. For Connors, it showed up in his very personal re-arrangement of the blues idiom, taking concrete form in his seemingly tempo-less melodic studies. For O’Rourke, it meant approaching academic composition and pop music from a side door, producing a skewed and eclectic oeuvre that doesn’t fit easily into any category.

Despite the ostensibly opposed working methods – Connors with his intense focus on solo guitar and O’Rourke being precociously diverse – the pair easily find a common language. For starters, it is refreshingly non-virtuoso, as everything they do is calibrated for mood and atmosphere, not technical dazzle. It’s tempting to call what they do non-idiomatic, as it seems to have no style or easy starting point. The fuzzed-out power chords and tangled lead that open "Maybe Paris" suggest a heavy debt to rock music, but then comes a sudden drop-off at the five-minute mark into lullaby lyricism and a subsequent modulation into a misterioso blues.

"Or Possibly Koln" mutates from a droning field of feedback into a throbbing riff meditation that wouldn’t be out of place on an avant doom metal record. "Most Definitely Not Koln" seems a precursor to the hushed nocturnal blues Connors has explored on his recent Family Vineyard vinyl releases, The Hymn of the North Star and The Moon Last Night, but again, O’Rourke adds a new layer in the form of a ragged electronic pulse, something common to new breed electro-acoustic improvisation. The blues, to which the two somehow refer on each piece, could be seen as some kind of common thread, but if so, it’s an open-ended kind, seen through the hindsight of decades of transformations.

While the folksy cliche of the album title is probably an inside joke, the obvious bonhomie the pair give off through the music is not. The two often move in the same direction, but not in the same manner and not at the same speed. Yet, somehow, they never trip the other one up, or drown them out. O’Rourke might have assembled these tracks from various performances, but I doubt he shaped them in any unnatural way, meaning what we hear is probably a realistic approximation of how they played. So, it’s not really rootlessness at the heart of this music after all – it’s drift. And not drifting as in indecisive, but drifting as in unafraid to be picked up and carried along, or force a change in direction, if need be.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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