Burning Ambulance review by Phil Freeman


LAWNMOWER – West (CF 178)
This group is a collective that started out as a trio. Under the name New Salt, drummer Luther Gray and guitarists Geoff Farina and Dan Littleton released a self-titled album in 2005. Though I haven’t heard that album, reviews suggest it was more spacious and post-rock than this one. The addition, on West, of alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs (like Gray, a frequent collaborator with guitarist/bassist Joe Morris) takes the music into a seething, blues-punk/skronk-jazz realm.

The disc doesn’t put the two guitarists in separate stereo channels, or identify who’s playing what in any other way. From one angle, that’s a little annoying, but from another, it helps unify the group as a single sonic entity. It doesn’t really matter either way, though, because as the disc opens, they’re both working in a gritty, electric blues-rock idiom. Not in the macho, thudding manner of Free, Foghat, Humble Pie etc. (all of whom I love), but something more alt-rockish and attenuated. “One,” the first track, is a slow-burning blues over which Hobbs takes harsh, almost Albert Ayler-esque solos. On the second track, “Glass,” the guitarists are quieter, but Hobbs gradually builds up to some sandpapery, Peter Brötzmann-like shrieks.

“Prayer of Death” finds one guitarist playing a folky melody over and over, like a cross between Bill Frisell and a very quiet Sonny Sharrock, as Hobbs takes another fierce solo full of abstraction and disorienting noisiness. “Giant Squid” is the most abstract and aggressive track of all, with one guitarist heading into Pete Cosey territory while the other lands somewhere between Caspar Brötzmann and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore. Hobbs plays it fairly straight on this one, opting for high-speed runs rather than waves of skronk—it’s the only time the guitarists manage to muscle him aside. “Dan” is eight minutes of near-silence, drones and the occasional rubbed cymbal. This leads into “I Love,” which offers more drones, but some lovely, if occasionally raucous, ballad playing from the sax. And on the album’s final track, the near-fifteen-minute “Two,” we’re back to the twanging country blues of “One”—straight-up Ry Cooder shit from the guitars, with Hobbs playing lines that are just slightly off, setting the listener’s teeth on edge in a good way. In the piece’s final stretch, one guitar sets up a loud drone almost worthy of Sunn O))), as the saxophone gets all Ayler-ish again.

I see I haven’t talked about Luther Gray’s contributions. Well, he’s got no bassist to lock in with, which forces him to either assert himself with blast beats and clattering snare rolls or be a nuanced accompanist inserting minimalist rhythms behind the slowly cycling guitars. He chooses the latter path throughout, and it ties the album together extremely well. This is a great record, too skronky and assertive for casual listening but fascinating and unique.

1. Do I foresee myself listening to this record again? Definitely.

2. Should you buy this record? Absolutely.
http://burningambulance.wordpress.com/2010/05/18/31-days-of-album-reviews-18-lawnmower-west/

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