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Califone - Heron King Blues

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Artist: Califone

Album: Heron King Blues

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Feb. 1, 2004

Word 'round the campfire is Califone was afraid you’d hate this record, and, at the least, it doesn’t like you back right away. It damn sure ain’t the morning commute. Heron King Blues is a long sojourn through some strange neighborhoods, and Califone ain’t fronting any change for a return ride.

If you believe braintrust Tim Rutili’s statements to miscellaneous press organs, HKB was distilled entirely from in-studio improv sessions. That explains its ramshackle quality, and the absence of any immediately timeless melodies. It’s about mood here. These numbers would rather glow than soar.

And glow they do, some of them. “Wingbone” and “Sawtooth Sung a Cheater’s Song” serve up the sort of seedy Southwestern ‘smophere that’s netted the band so many Calexico comparisons. Rutili’s gruff mumble best suits this sort of material. He’s less in charge on “Trick Bird” and “Apple,” which flirt with rumbling Middle Eastern funk. Production-wise, “Apple” inhabits a moody second-floor apartment over a bar; the muffled percussion seeps up through the floor.

“Lion and Bee” recalls the glory days of Rutili’s former outfit Red Red Meat: to wit, the ’95 LP Bunny Gets Paid, in all its dusty elegance, sucked-up depression and lyrics that mean much, much less than meets the ear. (“From the heights the planets curve tide and bullets harmonize / Ocean claws waters teeth traded away your soldier’s memory.”) Ah, bliss. Introverts may be the people god hates, but this sort of song casts us on the side of the angels for four minutes or so.

Then shit changes.

“2 Sisters Drunk On Each Other” is rickety disco, unprecedented in the canon as far as I know. Clearly, it’s not the regular gig. The title track is fifteen minutes of tune-free breakdown funk, the old Beefheart brainwash. And then, after a haunting “Outro” that sounds like rusted playground equipment, it’s the end of the line, and you’re left profoundly alone.

By Emerson Dameron

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