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Skeleton Crew - Learn to Talk/Country of the Blinds CD (album) cover

LEARN TO TALK/COUNTRY OF THE BLINDS

Skeleton Crew

RIO/Avant-Prog


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Syzygy
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This timely reissue and remaster of Skeleton Crew's two studio albums is excellent value. In addition to presenting the original albums in sparkling clear sound, they have both been expanded with selections from the various live cassette releases that they issued in the 80s. The albums have been reviewed in detail individually, so this review will focus more on the additional material.

Learn to Talk is a highly enjoyable slice of RIO tomfoolery. As a genre, RIO has a reputation for being rather serious and dour a lot of the time, but artists like Robert Wyatt, Slapp Happy and Sammla Mammas Manna have an anarchic, Dadaist sense of humour that is much in evidence here. The use of tapes, especially Ronald Reagan's voice, gives the album a slightly dated feel, but the energy and inventiveness of the double one man band line up is still staggering. There are four live tracks included from 1982 -4. Sick As A Parrot is a radio/tapes sound collage incorporating a few bars of Y Viva Espana, which segues into Automatic Pilot (lyric: 'I'm on automatic pilot'). Hook is of historical interest as it features Dave Newhouse of The Muffins, who toured with Skeleton crew but appeared on neither studio album, while the album closes with Frith and Cora tackling Massacre's Killing Time - a power trio masterwork played by a power duo. Superb guitar from Frith, magnificent cello/bass from Cora and somehow they manage to play the drum parts as well - breathtaking, and much the strongest of the bonus tracks.

On Country Of The Blinds the two one man bands were joined by Zeena Parkins, a one woman band, which gave a more varied sonic palette. No tapes this time, the beguiling complexity of the duo was taken to another level and the vocal arrangements became deeper and more layered. Six live tracks are included, most of them of excellent sound quality. Frith's guitar is more prominent than on the studio recordings, and the good humour and unique interplay of the band is obvious - on Cora's solo showpiece Howdyhoola Too audience laughter is clearly audible. Second Rate is probably their most overtly political song and is delivered with almost brutal directness and shows just how tight they could sound. More unexpected is an accordion driven version of Jelly Roll Morton's New Orleans Stomp, which is played with verve as gypsy jazz. Proceedings are brought to a close with Hasta La Victoria, which recalls the chaotic sound of Learn To Talk.

In some ways this is an object lesson in how reissues should be presented. The live material is as strong as the studio recordings (although the extras on disc 1 are of less than pristine sound quality) and there are no alternate versions of any of the album tracks. Rather than filling the discs with extraneous material, the additional tracks have been selected to complement and add to the original albums. Skeleton Crew were unique and have an important place the development of 80s RIO. This collection is a fitting monument both to the band and to the brilliant Tom Cora, whose untimely death deprived the world of a remarkable musical talent. Strongly recommended.

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Posted Tuesday, August 01, 2006 | Review Permalink

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