was about two months ago, while working on some ideas as a basis for a
new Mike Keneally interview, that I happened to think that Keneally's involvement
in so many musical endeavours, past and present, puts a writer - even one
"qualified expert" in all things Keneally - in the uncomfortable,
dangerous position of forgetting about something really important. And it's
a point that I strongly stressed in my intro to the new interview.
can easily imagine my surprise when, upon learning that the new album by
The Assumptions had finally been released (the album having Keneally both
as producer and multi-instrumentalist), I had to admit to myself that I
had completely forgotten about it, and so I hadn't asked him about it in
the course of our conversation. Were this not enough, the press release
which came with the album revealed to me that, far from being a man like
I had subconsciously assumed, Layne Sterling - the guitarist and singer
who wrote all the album's music and lyrics - is indeed a woman (I had assumed
Layne to be a man's name).
LP-length (a format for which the music featured in this album is stylistically
"appropriate"), The Assumptions is available on both CD and vinyl.
Both sounded fine to me: sounding typically "wider", the CD offered
a better frequency response, in both the high and low regions, besides sounding
a lot (and I mean a lot) louder; as it's typical of this medium, the vinyl
album edition is focused towards the centre, and even if its volume is quite
lower than I would prefer, it has its own kind of poetry, as it's typical
of the medium.
Sterling' voice (fine) and songs (good) are the reason The Assumptions
exists. So Keneally has worked "around" her, putting her vocals
and melodies to the fore. There are lotsa guitars and keyboards, of course,
and one can also find that old trick - remember those classic albums by
The Who, also many Keneally solo albums - of having a distorted electric
guitar sitting in the background paired with an acoustic guitar sitting
right in front. Keneally is on guitars and keyboards (and occasionally
on bass), the rhythm section is one of the album's secret weapons: on bass,
Jon Kanis is solid, Brian Cantrell's drums are propulsive and versatile;
Sterling herself is on rhythm guitar, sometimes her daughter Sara is also
on vocals. A stratified sonic approach that gives one the impression of "live".
music featured in this album could easily be described as "rock" -
just like albums such as Sticky Fingers or The Cry Of Love can be said
"rock" - with some pop flavours added, and a strong American accent.
Though sometimes (check the fast Better Late Than Never and Once In A While,
or the first track, Velvet Warning) her voice reminded me of Chrissie Hynde's,
Layne Sterling's vocals are quite often easy to compare to Joni Mitchell's,
but here it's probably a matter of phrasing and approach; to be precise,
readers are invited to imagine the "lighter" moments on For The
Roses and Court And Spark (and Hejira's vocal approach) as performed by the
rock group featured on Wild Things Run Fast; and especially so on Into Freedom
"à la Vinnie Colaiuta") and Cocktail Dancing (with brushes work
"à la John Guerin"). The lyrics look good to me, they are not on
the album but they can be accessed on the group's website (theassumptionsmusic.com).
track Velvet Warning is appropriately driving and full of guitars. Arranged
by Keneally, the brief The Magdalene has guitars and keyboards develop
a vocal motif by Sterling. Dip Dish Sonic Sage presents a fine melody,
and vocal counterpoint by Sara Sterling. 3 (a track I refer to by the name
Changes) has a guitaristic mid-tempo mood sounding halfway between Almost
Cut My Hair and some tracks off Zuma, the voice at the front, and nice
vocal counterpoint. In a way a mix of The Pretenders and Missing Persons,
the airy, rhythmic Better Late Than Never has a nice bridge. The aforementioned
Into Freedom is the fine close to Side One, with an excellent melody, a
clear rimshot, and a
"flute-like" phrase from the guitar at the close.
Dancing opens Side Two with a strange "rock" attack, then it's
acoustic guitars, vocals, solid bass, brushes on the snare drum, hi-hat
to the front, and a nice B section with a nice vocal counterpoint. Arranged
by Keneally, Hail Caesar! has a "funky" guitar, an "uptempo"
rhythm section, and a melodic fragment played by some "reeds" that
reminded me of Reach Out, I'll Be There by The Four Tops; in closing, there's
a brief guitar solo with a definite Steely Dan flavour. Why Are You is an
"almost bossa" with an impossible-to-forget chorus. Once In A While
reminded me of Hynde, it's followed by the brief, varied, and instrumental
Wished. Who's Mentoring The Store, Merlin?, featuring a mid-tempo melody
and a very fine melodic development, nicely brings the album to its close.
© Beppe Colli 2009
CloudsandClocks.net | June 5, 2009