SLAP GURU – Umashi’s Odyssey (Sixteentimes Music)

Umashi's OdysseyThis isn’t folk music, but Pete Seeger still wouldn’t want to cut the power cables from Slap Guru’s new album, Umashi’s Odyssey. In truth, at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, he simply said, (according to a May 11 2013 article in Something Else) “I was furious because the sound was so distorted” during ‘Maggie’s Farm’, a tune our Saint Peter really liked. Hence the legendary comment, “If I had an axe, I’d cut the cable. He just wanted the folk bible to be heard in electric beauty.

And this album is yet another salmon-spawned hybrid of folky blues that gets plugged into hard-wired electric circuits. Such were the weird times in the 60’s, and thank goodness for those times. Slap Guru conjures that sound of Savoy Brown, Ten Years After, and (my beloved) Tony T.S. McPhee and his Groundhogs. This music simply carves grooves with very vital currents into resurrected vinyl.

But it has such an innocent start. ‘Meeting The Mermaids’ is acoustic paradise with guitars that drip ancient waters, a sitar that drips even more ancient dew-dropped waters, and a voice that yearns to return to an ever faithful wife, like Odysseus’ Penelope. This song could well be caught in time, just like John Keats’ figures on that famous urn.

But then, as Jason C. Frank once said, ‘Blues Run The Game’ because ‘Acid One’ gets crunchy peanut butter heavy with a clatter of drums and with (the before-mentioned) Groundhogs’ ‘Thank Christ For The Bomb’ and ‘Mr. Hooker, Sir John’ electric blues edgy guitar riffs. And there’s a psych shadow that recalls (the also already mentioned) Savoy Brown, circa Looking In. No breath is given a chance of a catch as ‘Dark Militia’ doubles the tough blues rock with a switchblade guitar solo and the intensity of Deep Purple’s ‘Highway Star’.

Odd: An acoustic guitar serves as a bridge into the much more fluid ‘Sidereus Fatum’. This is moody pigment music with soft vocals, and, yes, a breath is given (thankfully) a chance for that catch. It’s a nice folky respite that recalls the placid flow of Wishbone Ash’s ‘Leaf And Stream’, that is, until a (sort of) ‘Iron Man’ riff sends its signal to some distant planet that still hopes for more radio transmitted songs by The Doors or the grooves of a new Blue Oyster Cult album. This tune is seven minutes plus of 70’s sonic pleasure.

And that gives pause to mention main Slap Guru Valerio Goatinn’s other band Galaverna and their album Dodsdans, which is classic underground folk, (claiming a kinship to Jethro Tull’s ‘Sossity; You’re A Woman’), with flutes, violins, and a sound that brushes the branches of very old oak trees in an ancient forest.

But, of course, Blues always do Run The Game. ‘The Night With Its Spells’ is seriously deep and dramatic rock. It’s electrified folk that grinds and sharpens Pete Seeger’s 1965 Newport Folk Festival axe because, as stated, he just wanted better sound for Dylan’s song, ‘Maggie’s Farm’. Thank you, Pete Seeger! And ‘Erkil’ is (almost punky) in its swift rock pace that recalls the pulse of Eddie and the Hot Rods in their best burning days.

‘Who Can Say It’s Night’ is a distant minor planet Pluto of a bluesy slow dance and long elliptical orbit song. Very early (and very emotional) Peter Green and Fleetwood Mac comes to mind. This is late-night full house poker game music.

‘My Shadow Kills’ is (sort of) Tolkien mystical deep-voiced inspired folk rock that floats around and around into Eastern mythical space, just like Led Zeppelin tunes sometimes do.

‘The Blind Polifemo’ (aka Polyphemus, which is, by the way, the antithesis of one hundred eyed Argus!) rocks in cahoots with of the before-mentioned Wishbone Ash’s Flying V guitar work, and echoes early Ash tunes like ‘Blind Eye’ (Sorry about the purely coincidental titles!) and ‘Phoenix’.

Oh – the songs on this album are based on chapters from Alberto Martin Valmorisco’s novel Umashi’s Odyssey, hence the title of the album.

The final big epic song, ‘The Plastic Island,’ grins and pouts with an artistic dexterity of (the also very great) Pretty Things, with even more ‘Cries From The Midnight Circus’ that are meshed for a moment with (of all things) the weird and very modern psych vibes of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. And that’s really cool! The tune simply roams a very romantic universe but sends signals back with sonic urgency, and in the end, manages a soft landing with a rock ‘n’ roll parachute.

Folk purists should, perhaps, stay away from Umashi and his Odyssey. This is an album of clever rock-blues, with a slight mystic folk chaser. But it does, with lovely colours, conjure the spirit of many British bands in the 70’s who paid sincere Hellbound Train homage to the many great American blues players.

Bill Golembeski

Artists’ website:

‘Meeting The Mermaids’:

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