The Bevis Frond - The Auntie Winnie Album

by Jeff Penczak Rating:6 Release Date:2017-08-25

The uber-prolific one-man band, Nick Saloman (aka The Bevis Frond) had enough leftover tracks from his first two self-released albums (Miasma and Inner Marshland) that by the time he signed a deal with Reckless Records in 1988 he was able to cobble together his second compilation album in as many years. (We also reviewed the reissue of the first, Bevis Through The Looking Glass here.) Fire continued their reissue of Saloman’s back catalogue with a special double album version (on pink vinyl), originally released earlier this year as part of Record Store Day. Now gaining a wider release, the double CD edition matches the earlier content, but entices fence sitters (and completists) by adding the mammoth, half-hour jam, ‘Death Grip’ as a bonus download. Confusingly, this reissue of a reissue of a reissue mirrors the Cherry Red version from just two years ago (which actually included ‘Death Grip’ on the CD version), but differs from Reckless’s original single disc reissue, which included two tracks not available here (‘Die Is Cast’, which you can find on Fire’s Through The Looking Glass reissue, and ‘The Miskatonic Variations’, which they’ve tucked away as a bonus track on the vinyl reissue of Any Gas Faster). It’s really much more complicated than it needs to be, leaving fans (and reviewers) breathless over where to find which tracks. So on to the actual music, which during these early stages of Saloman’s career continues to include an amazing mixture of Hendrixian wankoffs, lovely pop ditties, and charming little pieces of ear candy that warranted a much wider audience and airplay on initial release 30 years ago.

Straight out of the gate, we’re pinned to the walls with the paint-peeling wail of ‘Malvolio’s Dream Journey To Pikes’, a seven-minute organ-grinding, finger-bleeding instro that’ll wake the neighbours and frighten little animals for kilometres around. Saloman picks up the pieces of his shredded six-stringer for the jangly confection ‘Foreign Laugh’, complete with double-tracked vocal harmonies and another memorable lyric. (Trainspotters may recognize this one from its original release on his Woronzow label compilation, Woronzoid.) With most of the attention typically focused on Saloman’s considerable guitar pyrotechnics, his brilliant lyrical skills should not be overlooked. ‘Down Again’ (with vocal contributions and “guitar demolition” from mate Mick Donovan) is disappointing – like Bevis & Butthead goofing off with a new tape recorder they just got for Christmas. A mess that can be easily skipped without much afterthought. But ‘Will To Lose’ rescues the listener with another of Saloman’s incredible catchy pop tunes with self-deprecating lyrics and unforgettably yearning riffs.

‘Repressor’ is a 60’s-inflected wah-wah fest with kitschy organ crawling around a druggy rap that namechecks one of Saloman’s fave bands, The Savage Resurrection. It’s fun, but rather consequential, reminding me of Neil, The Young Ones hippie having a temper tantrum. ‘The Miz-Maze’ is a psychedelic guitar/organ jam which illustrates that Saloman’s solos are more melodic than most fly-by-night, basement-dwelling air guitarists trying to channel Hendrix, although the organ break does feel like a case of fiddling with the keys to make groovy, wah-wah sounds. Closer ‘City of The Sun’ is a 10½-minute solo full of tasty, wah-wah guitar runs that instills an Eastern-flavoured dream-like state in the listener. Sadly, at this early stage of his career, Saloman was still not above deteriorating into studio wankery, and the final three minutes feel like filler and show(off)manship.

The rest of CD1 are bonus tracks not available on the Record Store Day pink vinyl edition, but were previously released a few years ago on the Cherry Red 2xCD reissue. ‘99th Very Last Time’ is sloppy garage wankery that original appeared on the cover 45 EP that was included in the premiere issue of Ptolemaic Terrascope, a cult music journal that Saloman published throughout the ‘90s. ‘Big Hole’ is Hendrix worship, but the remainder are inconsequential, although ‘I Love You For Your Mind’ has a few interesting guitar touches, a neat solo, and gnarly harp blowing to add to the fun.

The second disc of bonus tracks kicks off with Saloman’s cover of Iron Butterfly’s ‘Possession’ (minus Doug Ingel’s goofy Bela Lugosi vocals) that focuses more on guitar than the original’s organ dominance (and which originally appeared – under the title ‘Power Possession’ on the Various Artists 1967 tribute disc Through The Looking Glass – not to be confused with Saloman’s own Through The Looking Glass compilation reviewed elsewhere). ‘Traction’ is another ear-friendly pop tune that suffers slightly from Saloman’s nasally “Neil The Hippie” vocals. The finger-poppin’ ‘Long Day’ saunters along in a good-timey, hop-skip-and-jump groove, and the epic, sorrowful ‘Spa Hotel’ is a wonderfully reflective acoustic story song (with his patented tasty guitar soloing) that sounds like an early version of New River Head’s ‘It Won’t Come Again’. ‘Vision Through Dilated Eyes’ is (literally) a screaming mess and probably one of the worst things Saloman ever recorded, an endurance test to see how long it takes to hit the Skip button to get to the pseudo-sitar driven Harrisonesque ‘African Violet’. Only dodgy vocals keep it from being a (bonus) disc highlight.

But the real pull here is the complete, nearly-half hour version of ‘Death Trip’ that originally surfaced in an abbreviated version on a 10” German bootleg, but was officially released on the Cherry Red 2xLP reissue in 2014 (not sure which version). It’s similar in execution to the epic ‘The Shrine’, with Saloman pulling out all the stops with rambling, cheesy organ grinding snaking around plucky guitar notes, and that omnipresent crap drum kit sounding like it was recorded out in the garage. Saloman walks us through his musical arsenal with bass solos, ruminating guitar lines, and falling-down-the-stairs drumming, but it ultimately feels like six strings in search of a song with the occasional (odd) stream-of conscious improvised lyrics tossed in to relieve the monotony. Even Saloman feels bored about halfway through when the music practically stops for some backward-masked mumbling. Not as good as its reputation, although I can appreciate all the work that went in to assembling it.

As with most bonus track add-ons, most of these are good for a spin or two, but many of them (e.g., ‘Twice Torn, Once Forgotten’) sound like variations of tracks we heard over on Disc 1 (guitar flights of fancy over a crappy drumkit), so completists will probably enjoy them more than newcomers to the Frond phenomenon, particularly as, despite many of them being available across various reissues, most of those are out of print.

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