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Urban Turban
Silence/Resource Records CD SRSCD 4722

 Medieval Swedish blues through the looking glass

Call me slow, but I listened to this CD three times and read the liner notes twice before I realized that it was a blues record. Yeah, I know what you're saying, three Willie Dixon tunes and "Folsom Prison Blues" ought to be a tip-off, but I guess the tramporgel, mungiga and munspel threw me for a loop. And sure, comparisons to blues masters like Brave Combo and those "Mexican Radio" guys, Wall of Voodoo, should have made it obvious, right? What can I say? It took me awhile, but it finally hit me like a lead sackpipa.

This is blues echoing out of some parallel universe. This record could be what would happen if you somehow traveled back in time and described the blues to a primitive Finno-Ugric tribe using only sign language who then decided to put on a farewell concert for you before you left. Wow. So long, and thanks for all the fish.

These guys manage to manipulate everything at once - instrumentation, tone, intonation, rhythm and arrangements - but it's still the blues. They use instruments and sounds I can't identify lurking way out at the ragged edge of western tunings, but it hangs together and rings true. Take "Let's Work Together" for an interstellar example. Wilbert Harrison's original had a bouncy rhythm and a simple la-la-la major key melody. Urban Turban sing the same song, but modalize and twist the melody into something more sinister. Which hemisphere is Sweden in anyway?

But do they mean it? Flip open the CD case and have a good stare at the Urban Turban boys while you're listening. Are they barely managing straight faces, or is that simply what you look like after six months in the dark above the arctic circle? Hard to tell. They might be toying with us, but I don't think so. If they are, they did a hell of a job, and they never let it slip. I have to admit, though, every once in a while, just as I start really relaxing, really enjoying the record, I get a creepy feeling that the whole thing is some kind of exquisite Swedish joke. Like lutefisk.

Nevertheless, there is some fantastic playing and arranging to be appreciated on this record. No flaming, phasers-on-stun guitar solos, but terrific fiddle parts and plucked instrument work, sublime background vocals (especially on "Knock on Wood") and everything locking in perfectly. If you listen closely through headphones, you'll hear layers and layers of instruments on each side playing almost the same line in almost the same key. Slide in some thick, rich syrupy vocals an octave lower than you'd expect, and add a spray of tinkling, sproinging, creaking, rattling, thumping and chattering. Don't forget the wheezing. All the sounds of the blues at once, done in a Swedish accent.

Be sure to check out the parenthetical tunes listed after five of the ten cuts. As far as I can tell, they call out little slices of original themes that Bryngelsson (mostly) managed to work into what would normally be a solo section. My favorite is the Dan Hicks on helium section at 1:30 in Hendrix's "Voodoo Child" titled "Bergspolka." The only thing I can't figure out is what happens at 54 seconds into "Wang Dang Doodle." Where's the "Ravparty"? Could be something that missed the typographic boat crossing the Atlantic. (They do credit "Folsom Prison Blues" to one J. Chash, after all.) And who is this J. Finneran, the guy credited with the version of "Knock On Wood" covered here? It isn't Eddie Floyd's song, for sure.

If you're expecting white guys reading down a few 12-bars in blackface, forget it. This is as real as it gets. If you don't concentrate, you can be lulled off into hurdy-gurdy-ville and then get your neck twisted when they snap you back with a chorus. These guys may have their tongues planted waist deep in each other's figurative cheeks, but this stuff is solid. I hear more every time I listen to it. I say let's get 'em over here and put them on a bill with NRBQ. They'd be unstoppable. What else do they do like this in Sweden? --  Jason Staczek

 Glenn Brooks says... Folks who consider themselves blues fans may very well hate this CD, or at least deny its bluesness. But, to me, there is more real blues feeling here than in the hundreds of shuffle boogie guitar/guitar/bass/drums/vocals bands making interchangeable CDs that constitute the pale underbelly of the Great Blues Revival of the 1990's. The blues used to be flexible enough to include half each of country, folk, big band, R'n'B, and jazz. Robert Cray, what hath ye wrought?

How to get it
You could try the Silence Records web shop. Good luck.

production notes
Peter Bryngelsson, vocals, mandolin, melodica, guitar, keyboard, bass, cumbuz, vevlira, tramporgel; Pelle Lindström, vocals, munspel; many others on various instruments.
Produced by Peter Bryngelsson and Pelle Henricsson. 1994 release. (41:50)

song titles
Rollin' and Tumblin'
Knock On Wood
Wang Dang Doodle
Voodoo Child
Let's Work Together
That's All Right Mama
300 Pounds of Joy
Folsom Prison Blues
Hoochie Coochie Man

Copyright © 1995 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.