Friday, 4 December 2020

Robby Krieger - The Ritual Begins at Sundown (2020)

Country: USA
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 14 Aug 2020
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In case you don't know the name, Robby Krieger is most famous for being the guitarist in the Doors, but I should emphasise right off the bat that this doesn't remotely sound like the Doors, even on the song that's a Doors cover, which is Yes, the River Knows, the original being on Waiting for the Sun. It seems fair to point out that the Doors' incredible six album output (ignoring the two post-Morrison albums) came in a five year burst. As crucial as they are to rock history, they really weren't around for long. Jim Morrison died when I was only three months old and I turn fifty next year.

Instead, this sounds rather like Frank Zappa and for very good reason. It's psychedelic and progressive but it's also instrumental and it trawls in a lot of jazz. The other cover here is a Zappa cover, Chunga's Revenge, originally on the 1970 album of the same name. This album is produced by Arthur Barrow, a bassist for Zappa in the late seventies and early eighties, before he joined up with Krieger, with whom he's frequently collaborated since. It features many other Zappa alumni, including Tommy Mars, Chad Wackerman,Jock Ellis and multi-instrumentalist Sal Marquez.

Now, many dislike Zappa for his scatalogical and often puerile lyrics, but many adore him for being as inventive a musician as perhaps ever been associated with popular music. If you only know songs with sexually deviant lyrics like Bobby Brown (Goes Down) or novelty songs like Valley Girl, check out Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar or Hot Rats, two entirely instrumental albums that will give you a very different glimpse into his output. You'll find that this Robby Krieger album, his seventh solo studio album and his first in the ten years since Singularity, sits very nicely in that sort of company.

What's perhaps most telling is that The Drift, the song before Chunga's Revenge here, feels even more like Zappa than the cover of the Zappa song does. This take on Chunga's Revenge does, at least, sound a more like Zappa than Yes, the River Knows sounds like the Doors. Tommy Mars plays Ray Manzarek's piano part on that song faithfully, while Krieger initially emulate's Morrison's part before shifting to his own and he never did play a guitar solo the same way twice. Given that everything else takes a jazz fusion approach to prog/psych, the only song that Krieger has played on before (and which he wrote) seems oddly out of place.

That very carefully constructed reinterpretation aside, this album feels wild and free. It's not just the jazz, because not all jazz sounds wild and free, but the energy that flows between the musicians. It's as if, restricted from touring, they particularly enjoyed bouncing off each other in the studio. I've been a lot more productive as a writer this year, because COVID took away all my events; Krieger has done a lot more in the studio and apparently has a couple more albums "in the can ready to go".

That energy is most obvious on the pieces of music that come after the plaintive Yes, the River Knows: The Hitch and Dr. Noir. Titles aside, which conjure up black and white movies for me, the music is just as vibrant and colourful as the cover art on the album. It's so vibrant that it bounces and, by the time we get to Bianca's Dream, I was bouncing too. There are two saxophonists on this album, plus trumpet and trombone players and a flautist, but Krieger is the only guitarist, so the solos he swaps aren't with the rock instruments we might expect from a member of the Doors.

The biggest problem I had here was to try to figure out highlights. For all that it's an enjoyable piece of music, I'd call out Yes, the River Knows as the low point any without hesitation. In isolation, it's an impressive revamp; on this album, it's just an interlude. The other nine tracks, however, are harder to pick apart. They play very consistently indeed, so much so that it's easier to pick favourite sections of each and least favourite sections too. That's a great riff on opener What Was That?, but there are slow transitions that don't do anything for me. And so on across the album.

And, at the end of the day, the weirdest realisation is that I think I dug the saxophone solos, by Vince Denham and Chuck Manning, a bit more than I did the guitar ones from Robby Krieger, whose name is on the cover. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed his contributions too and it's because of him that the folk we hear got together in the first place, but it highlights how much of a band performance this is. Any Doors fans looking for a guitar album by their hero really aren't going to find it here. Those who are open to something different might just love this.

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