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Sir Richard Bishop - While My Guitar Violently Bleeds

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Artist: Sir Richard Bishop

Album: While My Guitar Violently Bleeds

Label: Locust

Review date: Jul. 16, 2007

Until now, Sir Richard Bishop’s solo career has taken a very different tack from the course steered by the Sun City Girls. Bishop’s recently disbanded trio with his brother Alan and recently deceased drummer Charles Gocher operated more like an offensive against cultural preconceptions of quality and truth than a music group, but his solo albums have foregone Mexican wrestling show hosts, conspiracy-theory spinning radio plays, Asian pop covers (and singing in general) and sharp-angled free-form rock in favor of mostly acoustic instrumentals played mostly on guitar that amalgamate ’30s swing jazz, ’50s country picking, a touch of free improv, and the myriad strains of string music envisioned between Tangiers and Calcutta.

While Bishop hasn’t abandoned course, he does seem to be working with a more Girlish map here, starting with the album’s cover art. The record’s cover uses a disturbing and impossible to ignore found image, a 16th century Flemish painting of a bare-breasted gentlewoman stabbing herself to death; its title places a contemptuous boot-heel upon good taste and gives it a good, hard shove. This should all sound familiar to SCGs fans. The music also ventures closer to the trio’s work without compromising Bishop’s fundamentally musical focus. He’s given each track an exotic title, but if he opted for functionality he could have just said “Long,” “A Bit Longer,” and “Longest.”

The solo acoustic piece “Zurvan,” which runs nearly seven minutes, opens the disc in immensely appealing but fairly familiar territory by spinning out stirring flamenco patterns before breaking into a Hindustani gallop. It would have fit perfectly on Fingering The Devil or Improvika. The 11-minute long “Smashana” sounds like nothing else in Bishop’s solo oeuvre. It opens with an e-bowed drone that sounds like a call to prayer, but within seconds several distorted electric guitars pour feedback and clanking distortion over the drone like channels of boiling oil coursing down a stone wall. As the piece progresses, ghostly wails of uncertain provenance waft out of the hellish maelstrom; they could be the voices of immolated would-be worshippers on the ground, or of vampiric visitors snatching the victims souls, but whatever ever they are, they impart a grippingly malevolent vibe that would sound just right on a Sun City Girls record.

“Mahavidya” takes its sweet time - 25 minutes- to pull you out of the darkness. It begins with Bishop striking languid acoustic figures over an undulating tambura drone, working myriad variations on a theme that never seems to wear out. His playing sounds quite Indian, even though his guitar technique doesn’t sound terribly idiomatic. Rather, he evokes the feel of a raga’s accelerating intensity towards a glorious climax through pacing and thrilling rhythmic accents. When it’s done, you’ll feel like you’ve been somewhere worth visiting again.

By Bill Meyer

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