D. Charles Speer – Arghiledes + Leaving the Commonwealth

January 01, 1970

(Thrill Jockey)




Two releases from D. Charles Speer, the alter-ego of NNCK-er Dave
Shuford, explore cultures from Piraeus
to the bayou with the rough love of an aficionado, not a museum keeper.


For  Leaving the Commonwealth (7 stars out of 10; co-billed as D.
Charles Speer and the Helix), Shuford spends most of its time wandering through
the American south – in country ballads, Civil War laments, bluegrass-y
rave-ups and a couple of Cajun party tunes. Former collaborator Jack Rose is
looking over his shoulder in “Cumberland,”
the tune that Shuford dedicates to Dr. Ragtime, but there are plenty of living,
breathing instrumental abetters on this album as well. Pianist Hans Chew puts a
barroom swagger under opener “Razorback”, a gospel stateliness beneath “Rust in
the Bay”‘s waltz-timed grandeur. Marc Orleans, on pedal steel, is another major
element, weaving giddy slides into bayou stomping “Le Grand Cochon” and
mournful twang into “Days in the Kitchen.” Shuford himself, however, is the
center of the action, with his hollow baritone and glittering, glistening
guitar work.  From the electrified blues
boogie of “Freddie’s Lapels” to the quick-picking precision of “Cumberland” to the
lyrical electric-and-pedal-steel close of “Days in the Kitchen”, Shuford plays
with skill but also an ear for beauty. The title track, summing things up in a
country rock ballad that is like electric Neil Young, except more free flowing
and open-ended and even a little prog.


Leaving the
is good, but Shuford’s Arghiledes  (8 stars out of
10) is even better. For this one, Shuford plays all the instruments – not just
guitar, bass and drums but more exotic ones like bouzouki – and meditates
extensively on traditional Greek hasiklidika, or hashish, music. He’s
particularly fascinated with the work of master bouzouki player Markos
Vamvakaris, whose “At Phaliro Where You Swim” is incorporated into “Markos’
Cave.”  Here, guitars predominate, a
faint haze of overtones hanging over sinuous melodies and hand-drummed rhythms.
“Lost Dervish” turns the focus onto the upright bass, muttering jazz-like
incantations against sharp-toned, oddly tuned guitar notes. Five out of seven
tracks on this limited-release LP are clearly in a Mediterranean tradition,
however skewed, but there are also two ringers. The first, “Wildlife Preserve”
is an altered American folk song that got shanghai’d onto a tramp steamer for
foreign parts and has no idea what it’s doing there. But “The Heavy Heart of
Ando-Yeap” is pure tremulous gorgeousness, a fog bank of slow-moving,
tone-shifting guitars that leads glacially and beautifully to traditions that
haven’t been mapped and maybe never existed before. You spend most of Leaving the Commonwealth and Arghiledes wondering where D. Charles
Speer is coming from. In this final track, you ponder where he might be headed.


DOWNLOAD: “The Heavy Heart
of Ando-Yeap”, “Leaving the Commonwealth” JENNIFER KELLY

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