Jimmy Ågren
Various Phobias

(Garageland Records)

"I suspect that being a beefheartian blues guitarist in Sweden ain't easy (and I doubt it would be easier somewhere else)." So started my intro to my 2004 interview with Jimmy Ågren, a few weeks after the release of Close Enough For Jazz, Ågren's third solo album after Get This Into Your Head and Glass Finger Ghost. At the time, Ågren surprised me quite a bit when he told me that the material for his next CD was, at least in part, ready. And that he hoped to release the new album - planned title: Various Phobia - at the end of 2005.

I had liked Close Enough For Jazz, an album where the young Ågren (his older brother being drummer Morgan), performing so well on drums, bass and harp, went on playing with a healthy dose of humility some nice music that was, without a doubt, a commercial dead end. It was at the end of my review that I wrote that - no offence to those "blues-beefheartian" coordinates, of course - I hoped that those "folkish arias" I detected in the instrumental tracks titled Who's Lennard and Fifty Thousand Notes could have more space in the future.

But things didn't go that way. First, obviously, when it comes to the release date of Various Phobias, and album that Ågren made all by himself when it comes to both the instrumental (but in my opinion it's practically impossible to "get" that it's only one person playing everything) and the technical side. Then, when it comes to the music: which didn't sail towards the "rock folk arias" that I hoped to listen to, but which appears to have abandoned more than a bit those by now familiar climates (and the harp!, the instrument being absent here) which could have easily become mannerisms.

It's not that those who are already familiar with Ågren's past work won't know what they're listening to, especially when it comes to the album's opening track - it could have been on any of his past albums - and track 7 (which I imagine as being the opening track of Side Two), an instrumental that wouldn't have been out of place on Mallard's first album (of the same name). But here on this album Ågren appears to have changed his concept of groove, which was once fractured (ā la Drumbo) but is now quite more linear (ā la Terry Bozzio or, once in a while, Simon Phillips). While in parallel those angular repeated riffs take turns with vivacious solos which reminded me quite a bit of Jeff Beck: both in his "British Blues" period, and his modern "Bulgarian" mode.

We have a classic opener, Smokin' France, with some funny lyrics and a mood that I can only define as being very Zappa-like.

But it's with the following track, Little Devil (a Gibson SG?), that new things start appearing: a dry, frantic rhythm (the Yardbirds?), a slide very much in the style of Jeff Beck, and a burning guitar solo backed by very strong drums.

The long Light Show Bob has some "beefheartian"sections alternating with moments where guitars are quite layered, and some "lighter" moments. Quite curiously, the rhythm at the end reminded me of Zappa's San Ber'dino - with a "Bulgarian" Jeff Beck playing a solo with the bar.

We have a nice, "lazy" groove in Blow Me Hard, a track that (and I couldn't really say why) reminded me of the "raw" Kinks, circa Muswell Hillbillies.

With a groove that sits halfway between Drumbo and Terry Bozzio, and a "boogie" guitar solo, Jeff's House is nice; a groove č la Simon Phillips gives life to Goodnight Austin Texas, with an excellent performance on electric bass.

554023 is the "Mallard" track I referred to earlier: it starts with a "circular" arpeggio on acoustic guitars with harmonics, a melody played slide, and a nice effect (simulated, I think) of "backwards tapes".

Waitin' is a boogie with a nice solo, Various Phobias has some excellent drum parts.

Durham Takeoff is a very good instrumental track where the guitar solo mixes the blues with strange "Swedish" melodies, played slide. Once more, excellent drums.

Not much I can say about They Don't Care, the album (as long as an old vinyl LP: a wise move) comes to its close with Mud Driller: an arpeggio with harmonics played on an electric guitar, a nice melody sounding like an old "folk" tune, an excellent rhythm section, a beautiful slide guitar solo, a "symmetric" ending.

In closing, I can only lament the fact that all those tiny venues where once one could go and see a lot of groups of the "unorthodox" kind (also in the Rock In Opposition "style") are no more.

Beppe Colli

Š Beppe Colli 2008

CloudsandClocks.net | Mar. 6, 2008