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Sigmund Snopek III - Virginia Woolf CD (album) cover

VIRGINIA WOOLF

Sigmund Snopek III

 

Eclectic Prog

3.07 | 8 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
3 stars There's a lot going on with this album, the second for the Bloomsbury People but issued as a Sigmund Snopek III solo release. Listening to it some forty years post-release it is surprising how fresh and relevant the sounds are even today, although to be fair the lyrics and progressive experimentation are on closer examination quite deeply rooted in the early seventies.

Snopek had already become something of a wandering journeyman musician by the time these tracks were recorded, and he would go on to a lengthy and varied career as a solo artist, prolific studio musician and collaborator with everyone from obscure local groups like Stuffy and his Frozen Parachute Band and Major Arcana to more well-known acts like Tom Paxton, Bad Boy and most notably the Violent Femmes (who also hailed from Milwaukee).

But here Snopek presents a brilliant and sadly forgotten collection of tunes that reveal both a solid grounding in classical and jazz music, and apparently also a pretty substantial and varied record collection of his own.

Despite the title this is not really a concept album. There is one track dedicated to the tragic figure Virginia Woolf that sort of recounts her life story, but the main thrust of the song appears to be more of an exercise in free-form jazz and convulsive tempo shifting. All but the last minute is instrumental and the unusual requiem ends with the somber vocals "Virginia walked into the sea because she wanted nothing to be, Virginia is nothing and so are we". The sentiment is a bit odd given the rest of the album's lyrics are for the most part upbeat, though certainly restrained and reflective.

I'm not sure anyone but Snopek truly understands what this album is all about, but there are indications it is a celebration of life in some ways, possibly a series of reflections made during days in the city (presumably Milwaukee). The album opens with a disjointed three- part homage to "El Ciudad" in fact, mostly centered on Snopek's piano and various vocal passages that range from freak-folk to avant-garde to the sort of light psych-pop featured on the Bloomsbury People's first release. From here Snopek wanders into the song pair "Orange" and "Blue", the colors in this case apparently representing the Sun and Moon (or sky) as well as moods of the narrator (vocalist James Gorton) as he recounts moods and feelings while reflecting on the passing of the day and what Snopek refers to in the liner notes as "a magical realation (sic) of two colors in conflict and in oneness". Musically these two songs are a blend of classical instrumentation (twin violins, piano) in pseudo classical arrangements but interspersed with spastic tempo shifts and culminating in an orgy of saxophone, wailing electric guitar, stilted keyboards and all manner of percussion including xylophone and what sounds like timpani drums, before fading away as quickly as they started. "Orange" and "Blue" represent the sort of ad-hoc art rock so many Midwestern kids with not much more than a public school band or orchestra musical education were cranking out all over the place in the seventies. Plus more than a little Zappa and possibly King Crimson influence.

I'm not sure what "Elizabeth" is all about. It does not appear to be a love song although the delivery is smooth and urbane, particularly the vocals. This one sounds more like the post- Beat stuff the Bloomsbury People filled most of their first album with and is probably the most conventional-sounding song on the album along with the vocal-heavy "Song of a Nation" that reminds me a whole lot of the post-punk band Cerberus Shoal.

"Soothsayer's Dance" was either recorded at a different time than the previous songs, or with different recording equipment. The mix is somewhat flatter and less dynamic, not quite mono but certainly limited to four or possibly eight tracks. Like "Elizabeth" the tone is restrained aside for the most part, at least until Snopek veers sharply off-course in the final minute with a stilted keyboard progression smoothed only by the ever-present strings and a brief piano flourish that transitions the album to its title track.

Snopek reveals a host of avant-garde influences and probably some psychological issues with the ranging "Lifencave Book Two", a sixteen-minute vocal diatribe of sung, spoken and sometimes shouted lyrics that don't make a whole lot of sense for the most part but manage to fill the considerable void left by an almost total lack of instrumentation other than piano and a bit of flute and strings throughout most of its length. Toward the end Snopek indulges in some keyboard meandering that adds a bit of a psych dimension to the music, but in the end this is a strange composition that has little in common with the rest of the album.

The most commonly available version of the album today is a 2000 CD remaster that includes a much more sonically dynamic version of "Orange" and "Blue" combined into a single work. This version was recorded in 1987, long after the original album had been removed distribution. It includes an appearance by Violent Femmes bassist Brian Ritchie whose name is misspelled but who provides not only thudding bass lines but probably some inspiration for the arrangement which is much more pronounced than the original material.

This isn't the best Sigmund Snopek III album; indeed, 'WisconsInsane' probably deserves that label. But it is one his more memorable works and gives a good glimpse into the sort of pop/avant/prog blend he would perfect later in his career. A solid three stars and a solid recommendation for anyone who can manage to lay their hands on a copy.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 3/5 |

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