Alex Rex - Otterburn - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Alex Rex - Otterburn

by Bill Golembeski Rating:9 Release Date:2019-03-29
Alex Rex - Otterburn
Alex Rex - Otterburn

Rock drummers are a strange breed. Pete Best got stiffed from Beatlemania and a bobble-headed big trip to India notoriety; Phil Collins stepped to the mic and then wrote “Sussudio,” which has, even after all these years, eluded any sort of meaning, yet it became a world-wide top everything hit. And, of course, Spinal Tap’s third drummer, Peter “James” Bond, spontaneously exploded in 1977.

Well, drummer Alex Rex (aka Neilson) wrote the music for the great odd-ball everything band Trembling Bells that fused folk, rock, psych, and prog into a wondrous mix of weird and wonderful records. The album art, especially Abandoned Love and The Constant Pageant oozed folk music, but, truly, the band defied any category. Heck, “The Bells of Bruford” from their The Sovereign Self album rocks with an organ and guitar that gives Uriah Heep a run for its money.

For fans of Trembling Bells, just take the Alex sung songs like “The Singing Blood” from The Sovereign Self or “This Is How the World Ends” from Dungeness. This is the essence of the record.

For the initiate, this is a singer-songwriter record that evokes Dylan, Scottish folk, (the great) Ian Hunter when he plays to the memory of Guy Stevens’ love of Procol Harum’s epic tunes.

And it should be said that this record is a passionate and cathartic response to the death of Alex’s younger brother, Alastair. The first song, “Lay Down in Ashes” is soulful, with a steel guitar pulse. Trembling Bell’s singer Lavinia Blackwall provides sympathetic backing vocals. The lyrics are caught in an intense moment of human grief. They are tough words that sing, “Here’s a woman weeping for the son she bore.” This is human music. And it rests next to other cathartic records like Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, and (the lesser known) Peter Hammill’s Over, Greg Keelor’s Seven Songs for Jim, Jim Pembroke’s Party Upstairs, and John Martyn’s Grace and Danger. This is deep listening stuff.

Then “Amy May I” is handclapped rock ‘n’ roll all over the rock ‘n’ roll place. This is simply exciting music that juxtaposes the funeral pace of the initial tune. It’s also a reminder of Alex R’s songwriting talent. Sometimes, in the midst of Trembling Bells’ complex arrangements, the great musicianship dwarfed the tune.

“Dildos” is sort of Fifties rock laced with a Dylan voice and a strident harmonica that, again, uses the steel guitar to evoke the pathos of the album.

Now, there’s no other way to say this: “The Cruel Rule,” and “Otterburn” also enter Dylan country, circa Desire. But the tunes are so great, so let’s just quote the master and Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right. Sometimes, you know, The Times just don’t have to do too much Changin’ because great music is always great music.

Ah, but the next two songs are the deep enigma of the album. “Always Already” is a lovely duet with Lavinia Blackwall. It is just passion personified in deep vinyl grooves, with two great voices sharing space and vibrations. It (almost) fills the empty space of Trembling Bells’ breakup. And then there’s “Master.” I don’t know, but its odd lyric (sort of) conjures the pathos of The Band’s “Unfaithful Servant,” and the strange sax is just a lonely testimony to sincere loyalty. The song also spotlights the significant lyrical touch of these songs.

“Brother” is beautiful.

Now, going out on a limb, “Latest Regret” recalls the absolute greatness of (my beloved) Island period Mott the Hoople with Ian Hunter at his soulful best, circa “I Can Feel” from Mad Shadows. Hopefully, that still matters to someone somewhere. And it barely contains the album’s only sonically perfect glorious guitar solo.

The record ends with the acapella “Smoke & Memory.” It’s a return to the simple wonder of Scottish folk music. It’s music that begs tears. It’s musical beauty beyond tears, but that's all right, too. The album art captures three brothers in their joyous childhood. This record remembers those childhood laughs, laughs we can all remember, in the collective smoke and memory that must always Lay Down in Ashes in the melodies of our very best songs.

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet
Related Articles