Some of the items still available at the store…
For the beatific country-soul musicians of Brightblack Morning Light, there’s no place like Nature
By Daniel Chamberlin
Photography by Eden Bakti
Originally published in Arthur No. 23 (2006)
When they weren’t slumming it with us youngsters at the all-ages hardcore shows, the older dudes at my Indiana high school would spend their weekend nights going “country cruisin’, reminiscin.” They’d all pitch in on a six-pack, score a dime-bag and then pile into somebody’s old car—preferably a late ’70s model sedan with stained plush upholstery and bench seating in front—and drive slowly down the deserted gravel roads and empty dirt tracks that criss-crossed the corn and soybean fields that spread for miles in every direction from the small town we called home. Though I never went on these sentimental rides—I was too young, pot-phobic and already knew that drunk driving was trouble—I was in love with their soundtrack: long-form blues from the Allman Brothers and heartbroken redneck ballads from Lynyrd Skynyrd.
These days, I score my drives back from walks in the San Gabriel Mountains north of my home in Los Angeles with the same music, maybe a bit more Neil Young and Fairport Convention in the mix. It sets the tone for the silent trekking to come and eases the re-entry into the urban landscape on the way back down. The Grateful Dead’s American Beauty and Will Oldham’s Ease Down The Road are ideal albums to soundtrack trips to the deserts and mountains. I’ve added Brightblack Morning Light’s new album of organic wilderness soul to the list of music perfect for such peaceful expeditions.
The two core members of Brightblack are Rachel “Rabob” Hughes, 29, and Nathan “Nabob” Shineywater, 30. Their self-titled debut for Matador Records has the dense harmonic blur of My Bloody Valentine but the music is made with the kind of instruments you’d expect to find the world famous session musicians—the Swampers—of Muscle Shoals putting to good use behind Aretha Franklin or Mavis Staples. (The album actually features two of the Staples Singers along with a trombone player from Nashville, Andy McLeod of White Magic on bongos and Paz Lenchantin—the Argentinean-American multi-instrumentalist known for her work with A Perfect Circle, Silver Jews and Entrance—on guitar.) It’s perfect for coming down from the mountains, and custom made for coming down on Sunday morning. It has an almost gospel feel—since soul music is just gospel without as much god—that invites comparisons to the lonely space-age-blues of Spaceman 3 or Spiritualized. But where Jason Pierce put opiates on the altar formerly occupied by the Holy Trinity, Brightblack has placed a respect for nature, an amalgam of environmental convictions and Native American spiritual practices. Which is sort of obvious from song titles like “A River Could Be Loved” and “We Share Our Blanket With The Owl.”
Their live performance is as quiet and intimate—maybe even more so—than their album. The most recent incarnation of their touring band includes Oregonian Elias Reitz on congas and tablas and West Virginian Ben McConnell behind the kit, with their friend Mariee Sioux, who Nabob is careful to identify as a full-blooded Paiute, opening each show. They often bring sticks and other woodland artifacts onto the stage, erecting small lean-tos or tipi-like structures. All of it swirls and refracts in the rich, resinous sound of Rabob’s Fender Rhodes organ. The vocal harmonies are chorus of whispers, while the brushed percussion is more of a sparkle than a clatter. The instruments are so quiet that cash registers at the bar interrupt the spell. Nabob’s slide guitar work hangs in the dim lights of the stage, glowing and vibrating in the air. On his instrument, a wolf cub suckles at a woman’s breast.Continue reading
Double-click for fullscreen + scroll.
Many leagues below a murky, oil-filled pocket of subtropical waters off the southern coast of the United States, abyss creatures continue to communicate through light and vibration. In the “midnight zone,” a formidable black swallower feeds off of a hydrothermal vent, shrouded in a darkness thicker and blacker than deepest outer space. An opalescent dumbo octopus floats serenely by, her shiny coating picking up hints of a nearby jellyfish‘s flashing stroboscopic light, which illuminates a pulsating haze of red around them. On the very bottom of the ocean floor, a sea dandelion sits quietly, swaying back and forth to the rhythm of tectonic plates stirring below her…
Above: Special guest DJ Ron Like Hell, a resident purveyor of good taste and mind-expanding musical knowledge at northern Greenpoint’s favorite record-vending establishment, Permanent Records. If you are in the New York area on Friday, June 11th, go see him DJ at The Loft above Public Assembly.
This week’s playlist…
photo: Lisa Law
New BRIGHTBLACK MORNING LIGHT mix, courtesy Hearted Hand Limited.
From Harvest Records:
Brightblack Morning Light/Lungfish 7″
Harvest Recordings 003
We are excited to finally have this record ready to roll. There is one Brightblack Morning Light track, “Another Reclaimation”, recorded live in 2008 at the South Paw in Brooklyn, NY. The Lungfish track is “You are the War” off their Feral Hymns release. The record is spun at 33 1/3rpm, comes on red/clear vinyl, and is limited to 500 copies.
This is an Anti-War release fueled by Nabob’s continued objection for the ongoing wars overseas; both tracks on the record exist to resist these wars. Nabob says the 7-inch’s purpose is “to make it known the current wars should end & peace should begin by our decisions.”
From BBML HQ:
BRIGHTBLACK MORNING LIGHT have been invited to MY BLOODY VALENTINE ‘s curated event of the United Kingdom’s All Tomorrow’s Parties!
A first performance for BBML in France, the French Transmusicales Festival kindly invites BBML in December!
Expansive European Tour Dates Announced!
BBML Announce A New Collection Of Artists For The Band
Nico Turner & Jenean Farris of LA’s underground duo Voices Voices & Danielle Stech Homsy of Rio En Medio have musically joined BBML for this 2009 multi-nation journey.
The quartet are currently deep in Pueblo country, visioning & getting musical. Danielle has sat in with BBML during their early spring shows in the American South, as well as the April 2009 Denver & Seattle shows opening for My Bloody Valentine.
Other BBML News
Recent 2009 autumn shows included Shineywater with a new BBML backing band opening for HOPE SANDOVAL & THE WARM INVENTIONS both in San Francisco & in Humboldt County. BBML would like to honor Linnea Vedder-Shults & Danielle Stech Homsy for their musicality & fun fun fun travels.
Missing from the usual line up is long time pianist Rachael Hughes, who is adventuring in technicolor in an emerald forest of Northern California. Usual trombonist & vibraphonist, Santa Cruz’s Matthew Davis is currently playing trombone in a Chicago broadway musical. BBML’s touring singer & harpist Meara O’Reilly is rumored to be working on visuals for a video for Bjork & playing shows as Avocet. Gypsy artist & drummer Tommy Rouse has been working with bands White Magic & Celebration around the East Coast USA. Recent thanks to Otto Hauser for joining BBML in some shows around New York City & Brooklyn.
2010 = BBML’s AUSTRALIA JANUARY TOUR DATES COMING SOON !
BBML/LUNGFISH limited edition 7″ vinyl still available by calling:
Harvest Record Shop, North Carolina @ (828) 258-2999
TOURDATES AFTER THE JUMP
GERMANY 11/23/2009 BRIGHTBLACK MORNING LIGHT / RIO EN MEDIO @ STEINBRUCH-DUISBURG
Originally published in Arthur No. 25 (October 2006)
Blurred and Spacey
By Nabob Shineywater
Still Valentine’s Day 1969: Live at the Matrix, San Francisco
When I was living in Point Reyes, my closest friends became people in their sixties. They would share stories with me as I managed the community print shop. One day I was listening to Sandy Bull, and a visiting Vietnam vet shared a great story with me. One day back in the late ’60s he was riding his bicycle through Mill Valley when he heard very, very loud music. He was able to locate the house it was coming from, and sat on the porch and listened for about three hours. Then the music stopped and he knocked on the door to thank the artist. Two very tall African women opened the door, traditionally dressed and very gorgeous. Then Sandy appeared, and was friendly, but also severely spacey. The house was empty with white walls and carpet. My friend was already familiar with Sandy’s music, and had attended some of the shows in San Francisco that Sandy was doing. He rode away on his bicycle, surprised and happy.
Sandy lived in Berkeley, Mill Valley and Fairfax in the ’60s and his best friend was Hamza El Din, the oudist from Egypt. What a special time these men had together. Hamza had arrived in the United States after opening for the Grateful Dead at the Pyramids. He is best known for his ’70s release Escalay (translated as “The Water Wheel”), which features Sandy playing an ancient beat on an ancient drum. In Escalay, Hamza wanted to translate the feelings of the folks whose role it was to haul water to and from the well. It’s the best cinematic folk music I’ve heard—when you listen to it alone you actually arrive at his homeland. The oud is the most gut-pounding stringed instrument I’ve heard: it sends out depthful waves, resonations that have bass where you wouldn’t expect it.
Still Valentine’s Day 1969: Live at the Matrix, San Francisco is a live album from 1969, and the result of Sandy pushing the limits by using an electric oud through about four different Fender amps, all with heavy reverb and vibrato. I really enjoy the entire collection of songs, and have spent some high times with them lately. The songs feel a little more blurry and druggy than on E Pluribus Unum, the 1968 studio album where a lot of them first appeared. Which I appreciate: I am getting stoned a lot, so I am currently looking for items to reflect that, that I respect. Yet I know he was into the junkier side of drug experimentations. I feel if the tapes were mixed track-by track, that it could expose some more low-end that might be now missing. Sandy had a degree in classical bass; he was highly skilled, and his bass lines are sometimes just as interesting as his oud.
Sandy’s shows are another discussion, but briefly, he wouldn’t play with anyone. So he recorded all the instrumentation on analog tape, and then figured a way to synch up each tape machine. He would then haul this to a gig, press play on everything, then rotate between electric oud and pedal steel. Sandy bootlegs are amazing and even funny, as he was so interesting—Sandy had a great style and it is rumored that William Burroughs saw Sandy and immediately copied his fashion; the Beatles song “Come Together” is actually about Sandy; etc. Anyway, Sandy told obscure funny stories between songs. This release has a small dialogue about the live sound engineer ; the un-mastered version I have actually has a huge wallop of stage feedback due to the lack of understanding by the evening’s sound engineer of just what Sandy was attempting in relation to amplified reverb. The feedback is a painful-sounding slash across the speakers, not interesting at all, and isn’t approved of by Sandy. The same thing regularly happens today in live performance—this realm has not progressed much, and the truth of it is that it’s the fault of people’s stagnant exchange with audio psychedelia. There’s been a lack of progression or maybe a lack of respect for the trade of sound engineering folk.
If you get to know the songs you can actually feel Sandy become elated with tonality as he plays here. Some may think his jams are light, or even beatnik. I think his jams are of the heaviest order, and I believe him to be Northern California’s greatest artist ever because he wasn’t a contrived enterprise. This music is a reflection of what was the norm in NorCal back then. People were learning about the strength of folk culture around the world, and using that knowledge to justify dropping out … and to drop out in colorful, musical ways.
If you have never scoped out the subtropical vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains, August promises to be a sublime time to do so–and not only because its high altitudes provide natural relief against the summer heat. Asheville’s Harvest Records–part independent record shop, part record label, part curatorial team– will mark its fifth birthday with a three-day, multi-venue musical gathering, bringing in over a dozen artists from across the nation to celebrate the organization’s dual commitment to musical awareness and community-building in Western North Carolina. “Transfigurations,” co-owner Mark Capon explains, “brings together the spirits of the musicians that we have brought to this city, the artists who have displayed on our walls, the sounds people have found in our shop, and the togetherness that we have attempted to breathe into the community…hour by hour, day by day.” Featured acts include Akron/Family, Bonnie Prince Billy, The Books, Budos Band, Circulatory System, Mount Eerie, Espers, War on Drugs, Brightblack Morning Light, Kurt Vile, Ice Cream, Jonathan Kane, Coathangers, Villages, and Steve Gunn, along with a Saturday-afternoon panel discussion on musical documentation in the digital age by Eric Isaacson (Mississippi Records), Lance Ledbetter (Dust-to-Digital label), and Nathan Salsburg (Twos & Fews Records/Alan Lomax Archive).