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News From Babel - Letters Home CD (album) cover

LETTERS HOME

News From Babel

RIO/Avant-Prog


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Sean Trane
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Folk
4 stars NFB can be consider as Henry Cow Mk4, Slapp Happy Mk3 or Art Bears Mk2, as the continuation between the projects is rather obvious and even constant. Taking off where Art Bears left off, the appearance of Bostonian Zeena Parkins has changed the musical bents as well. With the debut album SAS/WROTT (made from two chapters), Dagmar Krause's voice is a strong reminder and link to art Bears but inevitable Slapp Happy as well. In the second album, Letters Home, Robert Wyatt takes the main vocals duties and is doubled by Sally Potter. But of course this project is yet another spin-off from Henry Cow's wind and keys mistress Lindsey Cooper (the lone composer) and percussion master Chris Cutler (the lyricist). The music is severe yet playful, cacophonous but also unexpectedly sensuous at times, abusing unusual chord progressions and odd-time signatures, shrieky vocal squeals to make haunting chamber music, nicely complemented by Zeena Parkin's harp.

Some two years later, NFB recorded their second album, Letters Home in a relatively similar musical direction, but Robert Wyatt sang most of the songs, while Sally Potter took over the female voice. Indeed the album is more accessible partly due to Wyatt's voice, but altogether better songwriting and wilder imagination in their adventures. Jumpy and playful Heart Of Stone (my fave) and Banknote, a chilling Moss, a semi-ragtime, semi-swing Dragon At The Core, a great Waited, a tense Fast Food, and the glorious blood-curdling finale Late Evening

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Send comments to Sean Trane (BETA) | Report this review (#122627)
Posted Thursday, May 17, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars Oh, I wasn't going to write anything for "Letters Home," as I already described the beauty of its existence in the previous review of the first offering from News From Babel. But as I listen to it, directly after "Sirens and Silences: Work Resumed on The Tower," I come to the conclusion that, although a perfect mate to its predecessor, it is an even more fully realized work.

The additional singers and players, mixed with the original four of Cooper, Cutler, Parkins, and Krause, make this so rich and (as I stated in the previous review) small and personal. Yet there is more power here. This slightly more powerful emotional music, mixed with the single notes being played and sang by different vocalist and by different instruments, combining to make uniquely voiced chord structures, make for an even more delicious expression of the original dream of News From Babel.

And yes, I believe that I am Babeling! But my goodness this is pure art.

I will state again, The English have given us so much diverse music, it is hard to imagine how it all happened. I for one, thank creation for this miracle of unique talent and hard work put into the musical art form.

OK, I can breathe now, and thanks for listening to My Babel!

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Send comments to tmay102436 (BETA) | Report this review (#408799)
Posted Sunday, February 27, 2011 | Review Permalink
penguindf12
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars This is such a wonderful album. The MOOD is what gets me. Song after song -- sobering melancholy. Woodwinds, brilliant drum work, and harp. The whole thing feels like winter, alone. A night before the fire in a wooden cabin at the world's end. Robert Wyatt's presence really helps.

"This life is bare and cold, and I am old and tired of truth," he sings. "Must we forever make our history in this cold country?" Nuclear snowflakes have already fallen. (Who Will Accuse).

"The Hearts of Stone" rocks a bit more, sounding a bit more like Art Bears. Some exotic-ish dance music also ekes in, along with klezmer & a bit of cabaret. Not as touching as the opener, but it'll do.

"Banknote" employs a Clavinet and features a new singer. "I nailed a banknote to a tree, but it did not nourish me..." Here a theme of environmental investigation begins, with the alienated individual searching the forest for meaning.

"Moss" continues this search. These are Chris Cutler's best lyrics. When Robert Wyatt sings "I was not deceived" like the most disappointed Man on Earth, you know that God is Dead. The outro features piano with harp accompaniment, bringing back memories of a childhood when things used to MATTER.

The subject matter changes completely on "Mass," a funky number featuring Clavinet bass lines and harp-plucking accompaniments. Bits of this song could work well as sampled hip-hop beats. The male singer sounds very cool, and the texts focus on one of Cutler's favorite "Science"-type subjects -- the Black Hole. The ending speed-up is excellent.

"Dark Matter" is a nifty waltz & another "Science" number. If it sounds a bit off-kilter, it's because the gravity was deflected by unseen forces. I like it.

Robert Wyatt appears again for "Waited," a return to the melancholic feel of the earlier tunes (no more "Science" for this album, ah!). It is a studied Dirge, interrupted at intervals for a flurry of percussion, melodic saxes, and other things. The ending takes its sweet time plodding along in true Dirge style.

"Fast Food" chronicles what I do every day for lunch, eating alone at Arby's, wearing headphones, and satisfied. I love these lyrics. The music is at first mysterious, becoming rock n' roll, then klezmer, and back again in a cycle.

The final song acts as the closer - soft and mysterious - mystical. Sadly, it's not that great -- the pace is very tentative, the lyrics are pretty overwrought, and it seems to wander aimlessly much of the time. But the finale seems to bring everything together as Dagmar's voice is replaced by Robert's. I don't know what it means -- but it sounds powerful.

This is definitely News from Babel's best album, the first being far too heavy-handed. Here, in a much more emotional landscape, their beauty flourishes.

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Send comments to penguindf12 (BETA) | Report this review (#488756)
Posted Saturday, July 23, 2011 | Review Permalink
Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Crossover & JazzRock/Fusion Teams
4 stars This is a unique album. First of all, the full length 12" LP plays at 45rpm. That gives it an extremely full sound (at least on my turntable). The music is quite reminiscent of The Art Bears and Henry Cow (no surprise there). And the songs are dominated by Lindsay Cooper's reeds. Zeena Parkins adds her harp and accordion, and fits in perfectly.

Vocals are performed by Robert Wyatt (who appears on five of the nine tracks), Dagmar Krause, Sally Potter and Phil Minton. The different singers add a variety of flavors to the album.

My favorite tracks are: the frenetic A Dragon At the Core, the dark (of course) Dark Matter and Waited/Justice with what I presume is Parkins' "prepared harp" adding bizarreness.

While this may be difficult to find, to any hard core RIO fan, it's worth the hunt.

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Send comments to Evolver (BETA) | Report this review (#584332)
Posted Wednesday, December 07, 2011 | Review Permalink
Warthur
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars News From Babel may have released less material than any of their predecessor bands - Henry Cow, Slapp Happy, and even Art Bears all managed to be more prolific - but for my money, they have the highest and most consistent standards of the lot. This time around, Dagmar Krause shares the vocal duties with Sally Potter, Phil Minton, and very special guest star Robert Wyatt, and the different moods Krause and Wyatt in particular bring to the table really enhance proceedings. Musically, it's another case of Lindsay Cooper working magic on the wind instruments, Zeena Parkins delivering some excellent harp work, and Chris Cutler keeping the eccentric rhythms going on percussion. Along with its predecessor, a true classic of avant-garde prog.

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Send comments to Warthur (BETA) | Report this review (#1009474)
Posted Thursday, August 01, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars NEWS FROM BABEL's, "Letters Home", besides counting with an astounding ensemble of well established RIO musicians (Robert Wyatt, Dagmar Krause, Sally Potter,Tim Hodgkinson, Chris Cutler) among newer names, holds the best spirit and humour of the genre and adds up real glimpses at other non-RIO strictly music, without any kind of excessiveness this genre is exposed to.

From their first album, I got the impression, IMO of course, that every time I listened to Henry Cow, I was really expecting this kind of music. "Letters Home", is as good as their first project. It is, even though the nostalgic concept, very humourous without being forceful or pretentious.

Musical composer Lindsay Cooper (1951-2013) has to be noted as one of this genres legends. Her fresh approach to the now very cliched RIO alphabet, were both original and brilliant. She nurtured from a diverse number of styles and scopes and transmuted those influences to work for her music and become eventually new "letters" in this RiO/av genre's language. (Chris Cutler pen-writes the lyrics).

The result of so many talents in the same room could have an easy run for extremes, something that never happens with this News from Babel band. They are more comfortable with the "less is more" motto when it comes to performance.

Impeccable effort, Lindsay Cooper's song-writing skills were and are oxygen, not only to the RIO/AG line of works, but to Prog music in general.

*****5 PA stars ( essential, even if you are not a close follower of this specific sub-genre. A masterpiece if you are a close follower of this band or the RiO/AV asthetiques.

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Send comments to admireArt (BETA) | Report this review (#1009676)
Posted Thursday, August 01, 2013 | Review Permalink

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