Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Stephen Grimstead

MARCH 30, 1998: 

Various Artists, Closed On Account Of Rabies: Poems And Tales Of Edgar Allan Poe (Mouth Almighty)

Who needs tortured contemporary poseurs like Marilyn Manson and Trent Reznor when we’ve still got the master of macabre, Edgar Allan Poe, to kick around? Certain unsavory influences were clearly off-limits if you were a child growing up in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s (i.e., comic books, monster magazines, MAD Magazine), but a curious demented mind could always go to the local library and become immersed in Poe, with nary a raised eyebrow. To know real pain, one only had to read real Poe.

By the 1980s, desensitized children of all ages had clear access to much stronger stuff through all forms of unsupervised entertainment media, and Poe became tame to modern sensibilities (or lack thereof). Yet today’s slaughtershow is missing the key element to understanding violence and madness on an individual level that Poe could never escape – the resonant poetry of personal misery. Once a recognizable face is placed on the monster, it usually looks a lot like someone you know.

Producer Hal Willner has assembled an impressive cast of players for his two-CD memorial to Poe’s work, Closed On Account Of Rabies (the title being derived from recent clinical findings that Poe was likely a victim of encephalitic rabies instead of drunken debauchery). Known for his enthralling tribute projects ranging from Italian soundtrack composer Nino Rota to Beat poet Allen Ginsberg to music from Disney films, Willner goes one step beyond previous audio interpretations of Poe by staying faithful to the source.

Hal Willner’s latest tribute album celebrates the durability of Edgar Allan Poe’s dark literary vision.
Past recorded renditions of Poe relied upon renowned Hollywood bogeymen (Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, Vincent Price, Basil Rathbone, etc.) to deliver the goods. Although these versions were indeed effective and tapped into an already-known quality in their narrators for extra spook value, the texts chosen for these “young reader’s” excursions into Poe territory were often truncated and diluted for kiddie consumption. In returning to the original, complete manuscripts, Willner restores much of the dread to Poe’s exquisite tortures of the damned.

The many strengths in this collection revolve around the talent chosen to interpret Poe’s wormwood-steeped words – some obvious (Ken Nordine’s “The Conqueror Worm,” Christopher Walken’s “The Raven,” and Gabriel Byrne’s “The Masque Of The Red Death”), some not-so-obvious (Iggy Pop’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” and the late Jeff Buckley’s “Ulalume”). All of the recitation artists on this project infuse Poe’s vision with a minimum of hysteria and histrionics, and relate the tales of madness in a matter-of-fact manner, just as they were written. Producer Willner keeps the musical and sound effects accompaniment in the background, with atmospheric guitarists Chris Spedding, Mark Ribot, and Wayne Kramer weaving in and out of the soundscape.

Two of the longer pieces are particularly pungent – shriekster Diamanda Galas practically hisses “The Black Cat” to great perverse effect for 37 minutes, while gruff-voiced Dr. John takes us on a toothsome tour of dental damage in “Berenice,” clocking in at two minutes shy of a half-hour. Other highlights include Marianne Faithfull’s yearning “Alone” and “Annabel Lee” and Deborah Harry and the Jazz Passengers’ half-sung, half-spoken “The City And The Sea.” Less impressive are two actual songs by Ed Sanders (“To Helen” and “The Haunted Palace”) and director Abel Ferrara’s hipster-with-calliope-and-bird-calls excerpt from “The Raven.”

The demons that haunted Poe to his grave have been resurrected with verve for your listening pleasure by Hal Willner and his talented collaborators. Closed On Account Of Rabies proves once again that the old wine is indeed the best, even though it holds secrets better left untold. – David D. Duncan

Vibes featuring Bill Ware, Vibes (Knitting Factory)

Most jazz fans associate the vibraphone with the cool chamber jazz of Milt Jackson and the Modern Jazz Quartet or the swinging sounds of Lionel Hampton. Vibraphonist Bill Ware, of Jazz Passengers and Groove Collective fame, has a different musical vision for this stately instrument. His new band Vibes is a power trio of Ware, bassist Brad Jones, and drummer E.J. Rodriguez, and it’s a far cry from MJQ. This is molten-metal jazz: darkly intense music that rides on waves of pulsing, rhythmic funk.

This eponymous CD was recorded live at the Knitting Factory, jazz’s premiere mecca of experimental music and the avant-garde in NYC. Ware emphasizes the vibraphone’s role as a rhythmic instrument (it does, after all, involve hitting things with mallets), contributing much to the pulsating beat. Bassist Brad Jones borrows heavily from the funk bass songbook, locking into long, looping, Bootsy Collins-esque repetitive lines on his acoustic bass. Drummer Rodriguez is all over his trap set, dropping small bombs in the midst of a rhythmic pattern, adding variety and emphasis to this infectious groove.

The overall tone is funky and dark, with each instrument blending together into a thick, boiling musical mix. Ware also understands the vibraphone’s melodic beauty, and sends singing melodies dancing above the rolling rhythms. A few tunes, like “The Joel,” break from this mold, moving instead on a walking bass line and some light drum work. Ware & Co. have found a groove that works well, and they’re polishing it up like fine ebony: It’s dark, hard, and ultimately beautiful. – Gene Hyde

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