SHANKARA ANDY BOLE – Rainbow Crow (Left Leg Records LL2017)

Rainbow CrowRainbow Crow is a new CD from Shankara Andy Bole, featuring what are described as seven “spontaneous compositions” recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios.

Bole is best known, perhaps, for his work (especially on guitar) with the late Daevid Allen’s Glissando Guitar Orchestra and the folkier Bonfire Radicals, as well as with members of Fairport Convention, Blowzabella, even the Electric Light Orchestra. But his talents are by no restricted to the guitar. Rainbow Crow focuses on his playing of the bouzouki, augmented by the use of a looper and EBow.

  • A looper pedal is often used in live performances to allow guitarists (most often) to record an instant backing track over which other parts can be overlaid. And yes, there are loopers that can be used with a microphone for vocal and other instrumental work, allowing multi-tracking and other effects. One of the less obvious uses of a looper is to allow switching between instruments in live performance, and while the press release does say that there are no overdubs on the album, there are bass guitar, guitar and percussive sounds on some tracks that may have been obtained in this way. At any rate, if they were extracted from a three-course bouzouki, I’d love to know how. J
  • An EBow can be described as an electronic bow for guitar (though it can be used with other instruments). However, its ability to manipulate harmonics and use of Direct String Synthesis gives a player potential techniques that go far beyond a violin-like sustain.

The title of each track reflects one of the colours of the rainbow, which makes a track-by-track summary look a little odd, but I’ll give it a shot anyway. I don’t usually include track times, but given the variance between tracks here, it seems more than usually appropriate.

  1. ‘Red Crow’ (14.31) is the longest track on the CD, and to my ear has an indefinably North African feel. (Or maybe I’ve just been influenced by my recent revisiting of some of Davy Graham’s Moroccan-ish work.) It starts off very simply with slow, sparse chords, building up gradually to more complex single string and double-stopping (a more recognizably Greek technique) around a minor mode. Nearly 5 minutes in, a bass line/countermelody is added. And about nine minutes in, the bouzouki improvises over a previous layer of bouzouki. From around eleven minutes in, the recording is dominated by EBow sustain giving extra oomph and colour (and, sometimes, near-atonality) until almost the end of the piece.
  2. ‘Orange Crow’ (2.33) has a similar melodic feel, though it’s a faster piece played against a continuous chord, almost like a mountain dulcimer piece.
  3. In ‘Yellow Crow’ (6.29) the EBow is predominant, but the piece features some percussive effects against a periodic bouzouki line and sharply percussive chords.
  4. ‘Green Crow’ (14.15) is only a little shorter than the first track. It begins with percussive effects and slow, sparse single string – or rather single-course work, since it’s in octaves – giving an almost bell-like tone. About 5-6 minutes in, the EBow comes in, then a plangent guitar (I assume) dominates the lengthy final section.
  5. ‘Blue Crow’ (2.10) is another slow track that seems to consist entirely of a single-layered bouzouki improvisation, lifted by some muscular tremolo.
  6. ‘Indigo Crow’ (7.42) features angular percussive effects and changes of rhythm, with a melody line overlaying the simple but driving chordal work after the first three minutes or so. To my ear the melody line is a little overwhelmed by the chord work on this track.
  7. ‘Violet Crow’ (2.20) is something of a contrast, apparently consisting of a single bouzouki without overlays, in a predominantly major mode.

I often see albums where the sleeve claims that no synthesizer/overdubs/looping/second takes were used. Does all this matter? Well, it does enable a spontaneity that gives a recording some of the feel of a live performance, while lacking the ‘perfectibility’ of a heavily layered, multiply-overdubbed recording. Especially in this case, where presumably the entire recording was improvised. But in the end, it’s the final sound that matters, not how it was achieved. Yes, you may hear the occasional moment of fretting imperfection, for instance, but a true obsessive can spend years on recording a single track and still not achieve uniform perfection.

I’m not sure how to describe this CD. If you’re looking for slick bouzouki music to bring back memories of that holiday on Cephalonia, this isn’t it: rather, it brings to mind some of the experimental fusion music of the 60s and 70s. While these pieces seem to me to be shaped by the choice of instrument and tuning rather than by a specific genre, most of these tracks have a North African timbre. As an occasional (and neither prolific nor authentic) bouzouki player myself, I was fascinated, but I’m not sure how other people will react to it. The combination of EBow and (mostly) slowly-paced music could sound dangerously ‘ambient’ but it’s used sparingly here, and with some unexpected dissonances to great effect, especially in the first track. Check the video, or even the sound clips on his web site, and see what you think.

David Harley

Artist’s website:

‘Red Crow’ (edited version):

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