Mike Keneally
Wine And Pickles


It was not too long ago, while trying to make a wild guess about the amount of time that's still to pass before that mysterious work that apparently goes under the name Scambot will get released, that I happened to think that in the course of the last few years Mike Keneally has not really released a lot of new titles (that is, when compared to his previous release schedule). Here I could add the words "though he has worked just as hard as before", the expression meaning here "due to the fact that he has worked just as hard as before". Which is a paradox only on the surface.

A musician who's always been open to new experiences, in the last five years Keneally has done the usual lot, going in many directions of fun & money - one really needs both! Recorded by the quartet which goes under the name Mike Keneally Band, Dog (2004) appeared as a summary of his "rock guitar" approach. Sounding fresh, and decidedly newer, The Universe Will Provide (2004) was the nice album recorded with the Metropole Orkest. "Superfluous" would not be an appropriate name by any means for the quite good (and quite funny) CD/DVD-V released under the title Guitar Therapy Live (2006).

But the last two years in Keneally's professional life have seen two important chapters taking place. First, his being hired, at the end of 2006, as National Music Director for The Paul Green School of Rock Music. Then - and it's a chapter that's still quite recent as I write - his being chosen (as a guitar player, alongside his trusted bassist Bryan Beller) to be part of the quartet that plays all the live parts of the virtual/animated metal band called Dethklok.

So, when it comes to his own releases, Keneally has for the most part dealt with his catalogue. The old albums hat. and Boil That Dust Speck were re-released, in special editions with lots of audio and video added (the same treatment being prepared for later albums, including the one by The Mistakes, and Sluggo!). Then, the two Volumes of The Tar Tapes - which I imagine to be of interest mainly for fans and completists, but one never knows - were made available for download. And now we have the CD called Wine And Pickles.

At first destined to be a download-only release, Wine And Pickles is a nice mix of rarities, unreleased, and curios - here commented in rich liner notes by Keneally himself - that could work perfectly as the ideal intro to the musical world of this US composer-multi-instrumentalist. At 80' of length, assembled with great taste and care, with a song program that's logical and perfectly balanced, it gives the listener the full "album" experience, as opposed to that of individual downloaded tracks.

Piano interludes, excerpts from works recorded for TV, "minor episodes" related to albums such as Nonkertompf and Wooden Smoke, make the whole flow. Here I'll only mention the mysterious one-sided 45 rpm vinyl from 2002 titled AeroDef (did anybody out there know about it?); the alternate version of Paloma (taking its name from the three-stringed instrument of Indian origin that's featured); and the Thou Shalt Not Kill for acoustic guitar that appeared in the CD curated by Henry Kaiser titled 156 Strings (2002).

Stop For Flashing Red Light, Part One (2004), is about 4' of bizarre acoustic guitar and vocals, quite strange to hear, beautiful. At 6', the chamber-like and poly-themed 4S (2004/5), with a simulated orchestra by Keneally "in overdub", reminds the listener of Keneally's past experiences with the Metropole Orkest. A minor masterpiece, the already-released (but this writer heard it here for the first time) Inhale (1998/2000) comes from the album by Lyle Workman titled Tabula Rasa; it's a collaboration of "heroic" mood which in its 6' 30" works as a real "Prog summa"; Keneally is on (many) vocals, Workman on (countless) instruments.

Three tracks originally intended for the Dog album, but not included for reasons of "not great affinity" with the album as intended as a whole, also appear. The de facto CD opener after the brief suspended mood of 2CTV, Feelin' Strangely is a mid-tempo ballad sporting acoustic guitars, and a fine bass acting as a counterpoint to the vocals; the mood of the guitar solo is quite Floyd-like, with backing by acoustic guitars and restrained drums, though the "grammar" of the solo is quite different. At about 7', just like the previous track, Li'l is maybe the track on this CD that sounds more dated: a "funky/fusion" theme, in the mode of Jeff Beck in his Blow By Blow/Wired period, a strong bass, a guitar solo, some slow interludes with piano and synth, and excellent drums by Nick D'Virgilio. Never Ever Wrong is a brief acoustic ballad which the liner notes describe as "an attempt to do something that felt a bit like Dylan's Nashville Skyline, but with a bunch of weird chords in it", to me the "B" section sounds just like a Gentle Giant track composed by Kerry Minnear!

The other important chapter here deals with the octet appearing on Dancing (2000), a line-up that due to their luxuriant instrumentation (keyboards, marimba, trumpet, saxophones, flute, clarinets, guitars, rhythm section) for a moment I hoped could become Keneally's vehicle of choice. Alas, the same factor that made it sound so rich, made it totally impossible to keep alive from a financial viewpoint!

Here we have three tracks that had been edited due to reasons of length. Backwards Deb has very different vocals/narration, and quite more "natural-sounding" drums/cymbals work than the released version; it's 6' of nicely orchestrated pop-rock. Skull Bubbles is a bit longer, 7' of "boogie/jazz" with excellent drums. The instrumental Selfish Otter is really quite longer (here it lasts about 7'), with solos and interludes now sounding more fluid; a quite varied track, with nice work by synth and saxophone.

We also have two unreleased tracks. Lonely Man is very melodic, medium-tempo, sporting nice vibes, muted trumpet, flute, and clarinet, 4' of great pleasure. In closing, The Endings Of Things is an acoustic ballad, 7', with piano and double bass, performed by a quartet; incredibly, it's described as being a mix of something Jeff Buckley-like and David Crosby's Triad (but the section starting at about 1' 20" really sounds quite Crosby-like), but the track sounds OK just the same.

Beppe Colli

Beppe Colli 2008

CloudsandClocks.net | July 31, 2008