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(49:10; Illegal Aliens)
One of the issues with the music scene, is that there is just so much of it. It also does not help that mass media seems to have a very different opinion to myself as to what is worth spending time on. Added to that, I have been spending more years than is probably healthy writing about material which has been sent to me, which means that I have not undertaken as much independent investigation as I should have. This means that until recently I had not even heard of The Muffins, let alone any of their music. Happily, for me, making contact with Jerry King a few years back has led me directly to Dave Newhouse of The Muffins and not only some of their works, but other releases with which he has been involved, which leads me directly to Illegal Aliens. Have you ever heard the saying that if you want something done you should give it to the person who is busy? It is something I have often thought of over the years as while I am always way behind where I need to be, I somehow keep pumping out reviews week after week. All of us can also point to musicians who appear to be always on the road or in the studio, either with their own band or others, and it is obvious The Muffins fall into the same area. When The Muffins weren't rehearsing (which was 4 days a week, 2 - 3 hours a night!), they were jamming and recording with friends, creating different bands. Illegal Aliens was one which they used as vehicle for stretching out music, experimenting and having fun. This new release is actually therefore a very old one, being taken from live and studio recordings from 1974 – 1981. Dave Newhouse (keyboards, woodwinds, drums, xylophone), Billy Swann (bass, guitar) and Paul Sears (drums, bass), all from The Muffins, are joined by Steve Feigenbaum (guitar, who also recorded with The Muffins), Scott Raffel (alto and baritone saxes, bass clarinet, drums) and Mike Bass (drums, vibraphone) along with a few musicians who contribute to only one song. Special mention here must be made of Ian Beabout who had the unenviable task of working through the tapes and restoring the sonic fidelity. Musically this is what I would expect to be honest, complex, experimental Canterbury-based RIO which pushes music in many different directions, often at the same time. Given this is taken from tapes recorded over such a long period it is amazingly coherent, although the guys really do allow themselves to spread with no preconceived ideas. This means we can have complete sections where certain instruments are missing altogether, such as woodwind or guitar, and yet in others they are the central focus and there is no room for keyboards. There really is a freedom here, from a set of guys who had no set deadline to have an album ready but instead were allowing themselves to move in whatever direction the music took them. From a listener’s perspective it is wonderful as one never knows what is going to happen in the next bar, let alone the next song, and it is like wandering through a dense forest with new delights at every twist and turn of the crooked path. What is around the next bend, is it a shimmering waterfall with vibrant light notes all working together, or will we have to work our way through thorns which are both painful and beautiful all at the same time and we have benefited from the experience. In some ways music like this could only have been made by a band in the Seventies when there was this freedom to explore, yet also sounds very modern. The horns at the beginning of “2 Luckies” are solid jazz, but then is that a stylophone I hear? If that does not date it then nothing will. Overall, this album is a delight from beginning to end, and for those who are adventurous there is a great deal on here to enjoy.
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