Bob Drake
13 Songs And A Thing


Bob Drake keeps on travelling his very personal route. 13 Songs And A Thing is his fourth solo album, following Little Black Train (1998), Medallion Animal Carpet (1999) and The Skull Mailbox And Other Horrors (2001): all albums of substance, each offering something worth listening to in its own individual way, each deserving one's time. Whether one will like what one will listen to will depend on whether one's categories coincide with Drake's, an American musician with a very long career who's nowadays mainly occupied as a producer and engineer in the studio he owns in the south of France.

Without a doubt, Drake is an omnivorous listener: even a superficial listening session in the company of 13 Songs And A Thing will reveal traces of progressive rock, some elements of Fred Frith in his "Balkanic" and "punk" mode (let's say, Skeleton Crew or some of his earlier solo albums), definitely more than a pinch of country/blues, some reminiscences of Henry Kaiser, a timbral harshness (and a refusal of setting in a "square" groove for more than a few bars) that's quite obviously beefheartian. This makes total sense provided one remembers that Drake was a big part of the "progressive/Rock In Opposition" US group Thinking Plague - and then of Hail, that group's duo offshoot; and also his collaboration with another "progressive/RIO" US group, 5uu's. That all those influences show up in his work is not by itself a bad thing - ignorance is very seldom a blessing. His composing and playing (Drake is a formidable multi instrumentalist), however, are not the whole story: the timbral treatment of the instruments (just listen to the drums) and their placement in the recorded aural space tell us of a long and meticulous work of a very high quality (and let's not forget his work on ...A Mere Coincidence, the Science Group's album from 1999).

OK, now about 13 Songs And A Thing. On the surface the "Thing" - the very long (almost thirteen minutes) track #12 - sounds just like a lot of sounds (percussions, voices, guitars and who knows what else) but is in fact perfectly organized; I just wonder how many times I will actually listen to this THING. Much better are the "13 Songs", of a very varied nature. Drake opens the record with the paraprogressive Chase (composed by Dominic Frontiere), rearranges Pechan And Willy - a beautiful page by Stevan Tickmayer - and with a wise perception of the "weights and balances" factor follows the monstrosity of Building With Bones (those thirteen minutes) with the brief and light And The Sun, a piano improvisation plus glass, tapes and other sounds from the early '80s.

Is everything ok, then? My problem with all Drake's solo records - and this one is no exception - is that I always get the impression that I'm listening not to an "aesthetics" - but to a "point of view" on the materials. Of course, it's obvious that all aesthetics incorporate a point of view. But I have often the impression that his point of view doesn't fully manage to translate into an individual aesthetics. Maybe I'm not postmodern enough? In any case - as always, but this time, especially so - the reader is invited to judge for himself.

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2003 | March 15, 2003