Click to hear: “Rival”
Dilly Dilly is Erin Davidson, a multi-instrumentalist and singer most recently affiliated with the avant-garde South Portland ensemble Cerberus Shoal. While on tour with Cerberus in Seattle last year, Davidson picked up a ukulele, and subsequently recorded this five-track promo CD at home, on a four-track recording machine.
Akidleadivy is a spare record. It’s pretty much just Davidson and her ukulele, with a few vocal overdubs, some finger-snaps, and a tinny horn that pops up once, on the first track, “Rival.”
Yet as “Rival” shows, Davidson’s got a pretty, ear-catching voice, and an inventive sense of melody. The four-stringed ukulele – essentially a comedy prop in the minds of most mainland Americans, this reviewer included – sounds, if not serious, not ridiculous in Davidson’s hands. This is no small feat. It’s her voice, her phrasing and melodies, that shine through, making the uke’s tones a pleasant, if quirky, backdrop.
There’s an old-timey feel to these songs, imparted by the ukulele and the homemade recording atmosphere, but also by Davidson’s songwriting, a mix of folk, traditional Irish music and early American pop and jazz. “Rival” is the most modern-sounding song on the EP, if you don’t count the closer, “Daisy a Day,” a touching and simple ballad that ends with a trippy little vocal loop.
This effect – tossed in, seemly, on a whim – suggests what great records Davidson could make with quality studio time (that is, a lot of money) at her disposal. These stripped-down, acoustic songs work on their own, but there’s also room in these compositions for other instruments and effects. And knowing the sonic glories Davidson’s achieved with Cerberus, it’s exciting to think of what she could produce with a more eclectic sonic palate.
Akidleadivy, one hopes, is just an appetizer, the quaint precursor to a multi-course musical feast.
VHF Records (2004)
Jack Rose is a disciple of John Fahey, the masterful and troubled folk-blues guitarist and composer who died in 2001.
As noted in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, Fahey was “rediscovered” in the mid-1990s by Spin writer Byron Coley, and his subsequent recordings displayed a dissonance and darkness akin to that of his younger musical admirers, like Sonic Youth and the Boston-based, experimental-rock group Cul de Sac (with whom Fahey made the unsettling 1997 album The Epiphany of Glenn Jones; Jones is also appearing with Rose and Dilly Dilly at Space Gallery).
Rose was a member of the psychedelic noise-rock outfit Pelt back in those days. Since Fahey’s death, he’s released several solo records that echo his predecessor’s reverence for early folk-blues and penchant for dark, modal musings.
Raag Manifestos is a collection of seven mostly solo recordings made between 2002 and ’04. Like Fahey’s latter output, the Philadelphia guitarist’s compositions can be difficult, beautiful, mesmerizing and startling.
These seven pieces, played primarily on a steel-stringed, 12-string guitar, range in effect from frightening (“Black Pearls From the River,” “Hart Crane’s Old Boyfriends”) to calming (“Road” and the traditional spiritual “Blessed Be the Name of the Lord”). One of the collection’s strongest compositions, “Tower of Babel,” builds from an elegant, arabesque lyricism to a stormy frenzy. A second musician adds electronic atmospheres to one track; another includes tablas.
Rose and contemporaries like Jones and Steffan Basho-Junghans are keeping Fahey’s spirit alive while expanding and adapting his approach for the new millennium. Raag Manifestos is an eerie reflection of our world today: its chaos, noise, fear, hope and pockets of tranquility. This is the soundtrack to the End Times. Listen close while you still have ears.
— Chris Busby
Glenn Jones, Jack Rose and Dilly Dilly perform Mon., July 24, at Space Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland, at 9 p.m. Tix: $7 (18+). 828-5600. space538.org.