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Jackie-O Motherfucker - Flags of the Sacred Harp

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Artist: Jackie-O Motherfucker

Album: Flags of the Sacred Harp

Label: ATP

Review date: Jan. 5, 2006

Jackie-O Motherfucker work best when liberating historical or generic sources from their strictures, guiding blues and folk into intimate congress with psychedelia and free music. The outfit catches stray pellets of song in its net - either via Tom Greenwood’s turntable and sampler extrapolations or through direct quotation, as on their rendition of “Amazing Grace” on Fig 5 - and plants them in thickets of improvisation. When Jackie-O Motherfucker stumble, they appear aimless and disconnected, their attempts to contrive transcendence falling flat, but when the group succeed they grasp earthed folk forms and transfigure them into comet’s tails.

Flags of the Sacred Harp is Jackie-O Motherfucker’s most consistent reconciliation with song. Opening songs “Nice One” and “Rockaway” are more about concept than execution, as though the decision to work with fragments from traditional hymns and protean blues is the sole framing device for the group. Here they haven’t successfully resolved the twin desires of their music - staying close to ground or taking flight. However, the energy starts to translate on “Spirits”, where intricate guitar burns through the pages of the group’s hymnbook.

By the time you reach “Loud and Mighty” and “The Louder Roared the Sea”, both sung by on-again off-again member Honey Owens in a voice cast in flaking gold lining, Jackie-O Motherfucker have finally reached the apex of their communion, stringing melodies through the air like fairy-lights hanging from whispering pines. If they are going to follow this path, the group need to tighten things some (e.g. stronger vocals from Tom Greenwood, less episodic treatments of song-vs.-free-playing) but Flags of the Sacred Harp, though tentative, is a pleasant step in the right direction.

By Jon Dale

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