Think country music, and crisp, three minute twangin' story songs float through your head; think harmolodics, and the extended free-flowing instrumental improvisations championed by Ornette Coleman come to mind. A combination of the two? Get on outta here.
But as strange and incompatible as this musical marriage might sound, a couple of listens to An Afternoon in Austin..or Country Music for Harmolodic Souls by steel guitarist Susan Alcorn and vocalist/guitarist/banjo man Dr. Eugene Chadbourne suggest a logical, perhaps inevitable combination of concepts.
The CD is organized around some standard and relatively concise country stuff: Mickey Newbury's "How I Love Them Old Songs" and Loretta Lynn's "I Got Caught," with the harmolodic tinge creeping into stretched out takes on A.P. Carter's (the Carter Family Patriarch) "Hello Stranger" and (the diamond in the hatband of the set) an eleven and a half minute, meandering take on Merle Haggard's "If We Make it Through December." This tune is full of improvisational twangs and twitters and eddying steel songlets, featuring Dr. Chadbourne's unpretentious and Merle-esque vocals—a song that sounds like some kind of off-the-cuff, down-on-the-luck, blue collar Symphony Americana.
Harmolodics takes center stage on two extended improv pieces, "Albourne" and "Sugene". Loose, relaxed, back porch atmosopherics, conjuring surreal images of sage brush and barbed wire and dusty cowboy boots, sun-bleached cattle skulls and pale blue skies.
Gorgeous, compelling and very American sounds. Makes you wonder why this hasn't been done before. -DAN MCCLENAGHAN
Susan Alcorn, pedal steel guitar; Dr. Eugene Chadbourne, accoustic guitar, banjo Boxholder Records