Shankara Andy Bole is a multi-instrumentalist, composer and arranger who’s worked with – among others – Daevid Allen and Bonfire Radicals. He’s no mean guitarist and bouzouki player, and highly respected for his inventiveness especially in the use of technology such as the looper pedal and the EBow sustain device. Rainbow Crow is Andy’s seventh solo album – though the first to come to my attention – and concentrates on his bouzouki playing, albeit drawing heavily on his use of the above-mentioned devices and thus avoiding the need for overdubs. Indeed, without being able to visualise the live use of these techniques it’s hard to believe that no bass guitar, percussion or keyboard lines were played separately – you may need to swot up on the modus operandi to appreciate the virtuosity and coordination that go into Andy’s playing. The album was recorded at Peter Gabriel’s RealWorld studios, and brings us a suite of seven “spontaneous compositions” each nominally reflecting a particular colour of the rainbow (in sequence from Red Crow to Violet Crow); although it can’t be described as programmatic music in that regard, each piece does nevertheless possess a very different character from its companions.
For all that it may usefully be tagged borderline-ambient, Andy’s music proves extraordinarily compelling. Newcomers in search of a quick-fix or instant gratification, however, might do well not to begin with the first track, the 14-minute Red Crow, or the equally lengthy Green Crow, for their glory is in their leisurely unfolding and the rewards are immense and long-lasting for the patient listener. At times the meandering, improvisatory Red Crow has the feel of the Arabian taksim, while the phrasing and feel of the oud is evoked in one section of Green Crow, which with its range of sounds from percussive effects to keening chord sequences is possibly the most mesmeric of the album’s tracks. Conversely, the two-minute Blue Crow is by comparison curiously unsatisfying in its lack of development – unlike the only slightly longer Orange Crow, which possesses a kind of rustic charm reminiscent of the American Primitives, and the even simpler final piece Violet Crow. Perhaps the most unexpected texture is an electronic-keyboard-like rhythm that enters the fray midway through Indigo Crow in counterpoint to the forthright bouzouki layers, but there are many other intriguing sounds generated by Andy over the course of the album, especially with the EBow, all of which permit his creativity full rein, and the range of musical colours he achieves is stunning.
Rainbow Crow proves a modest creation of perhaps disproportionately satisfying impact, and its end fully justifies its equally modest means. Much recommended, then.
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