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Dredd Foole - Daze on the Mounts

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Artist: Dredd Foole

Album: Daze on the Mounts

Label: Family Vineyard

Review date: Jan. 8, 2007

In his book Mystery Train, Greil Marcus pines for the songs of Randy Newman to be dispersed to a larger cast of ears, but not because the songs would be good for people (good like medicine is good for people), but because he wanted to know what effect Newman’s songs would have, what consequences would follow their dispersal, just like viruses, rumors and scandals have consequences. Marcus was writing of a songwriter with a relatively established reputation and channels of distribution, so what consequences could we postulate for the music of Dan Ireton, a.k.a. Dredd Foole, a vocalist and purveyor of outsider songcraft with scant exposure in mainstream channels? What would be left in the wake of his cobbled fever dreams of ecstatic vocal excitement, brawn–and-blood guitar sculptures and improvised muscle, if by some fantasy they made it to the ears of more than a few listeners?

Up until 2003, most of Ireton’s output remained obscure, but the placing of his 1995 solo outing In Quest of Tense as a pivot of the nebulous scene of American free-music explorers brought new light (and a sense of permanence) to the Foole’s music. In 2004, Ecstatic Yod released The Whys of Fire with a reconvened Din. In 2005, Ecstatic Yod unveiled the solo acoustic set A Long, Losing Battle with Eloquence and Intimance to much acclaim. And now, in 2007, Family Vineyard re-releases Daze on the Mounts, a collection of cosmic-fried songspaces recorded with the help of Matt Valentine and Erika Elder and issued initially in 2004 by Child of Microtones .

With this third stone in place, contemporary listeners are now positioned to view the breadth of Ireton’s accomplishment, which is nothing less than a channeling of more than four decades of American musical evolution and revolution, upheavals that Foole has witnessed first-hand. From his vantage point in the clubs and record shops of Boston and other East coast haunts, Ireton has experienced it all: the British Invasion, folk, folk-rock, psychedelia, free jazz, punk and post-punk, the rise of the heroic singer-songwriter, new wave, electronica, and the latest collision of noise, improvisation and rural, as well as global folk forms.

The six pieces are a nexus of Ireton’s experience. “When (The) Foole Comes Out” alludes to Sun Ra in more than title. Foole plays a moon drum, kalimba and a ceramic drum, densely packs the remaining space with layers of his voice and then crams the whole mess into an echo chamber worthy of Ra’s Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy. “Feed the King,” with Valentine and Elder adding moon flute, backing vocals, a trumpet and bells to Foole’s layered incantations, could likewise be an outtake from that Ra classic. “Lion of Green” has a blues rattling around in it somewhere, even a hint of raga in Elder’s tamboura.

But Ireton, and increasingly Valentine and Elder, are so much more than a sum of influences, and throughout the three do what they do best: hijack musical and verbal narrative, denying the straight line and playing rough with our ideas of a song.

They stretch Arthur Lee’s “Signed D.C.” to the brink of mantra, using its repetitive verses and coda as the perfect vehicle for Foole to wreak havoc on phonetics and semantics, the call of “No one cares for me, cares for me” spiraling endlessly around two chords from Foole’s acoustic. On “Freedom,” Foole riffs on a few lines from J. Masics’ “Someone Said.” Foole’s guitar latches the piece tenuously to some structure, but Valentine’s telecaster frays the edges of the fabric and any investment you might have made in the word “freedom” gets bankrupted as Foole harps on it, echoes it, and chops it up until it is just more primordial grist for the mill. Freedom is just a word; it’s what you do with it that means something.

Performances like “Freedom” remind the listener of Ireton’s true instrument, his voice, and he uses it like few others, taking his place somewhere between Tim Buckley and Phil Minton. He wrestles words to the canvas, breaks them down into phonemes, drains their meanings of blood until they finally pass out cold in his sleeper hold. There’s a thrill in hearing someone so absolutely raze and then resurrect our most human and, at times, mundane of tools. But there is also empowerment; Foole has used such everyday tools – his voice, a few compact lines and the rudiments of song – to raise his very own Tower of Babel.

By Matthew Wuethrich

Other Reviews of Dredd Foole

A Long, Losing Battle with Eloquence and Intimance

Kissing the Contemporary Bliss

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View all articles by Matthew Wuethrich

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