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Huffin' Rag Blues

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Album Review

Even writing about this album feels like giving too much away. Nurse with Wound's Huffin' Rag Blues is something you would never have expected from them — or would you? Steven Stapleton has been his own recording project since 1978, and as such, he and his collaborators have taken on virtually every Western genre — and then some. They've engaged in so many different kinds of music murder that they've resurrected its sleeping spirit in their own image. Stapleton teams with composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Liles as his co-creator in musical terrorism as they take on the exotica and lounge genres. Longtime friends of NWW Colin Potter and Matt Waldron are on board as well. Canadian singer/songwriter Lynn Jackson exchanges her folk-rock priestess crown for the little black sequined dress of a nighttime barroom chanteuse and channels everyone from Lynn Marino of the Frank Cunimondo Trio to Peggy Lee. Likewise, composer and performer Freida Abtan does her amazing, slightly campy European (though she too is Canadian, but then, Montreal is its own country) impression of the singers in Italian film soundtracks; she also contributes percussion and her better-known brand of electro-acoustics as well. Waldron does his very best (a literal double take at the credits) Nick Cave on "Black Teeth." Diana Rogerson also sings on a pair of cuts.

Huffin' Rag Blues is the sonic terrain where Les Baxter and Esquivel meet the dark edges of a future — which has already happened and no one noticed — that reflects, in the eternal echoes and colors of space, their own sonically imagistic futurism back at them. They are recognizable, but something has happened to them too. Stapleton and Liles are faithful to a degree in how they "hear" exotica and lounge, but there is that other, specifically NWW aesthetic at work here: how far can they bend it, break it, morph and pervert it, until it becomes something wholly other, something categorically NWW? This is the secret to every NWW recording that borrows from other sources of inspiration. This isn't like any reading of this music you've ever heard before; it is deliciously dark, dripping with black humor as well as suspense, in both compositional and architectural sophistication. One can imagine Neal Hefti encountering this is an unlit room (not a pretty sight, though), or Martin Denny suddenly taking a turn through John Cage, Iannis Xenakis, and Luc Ferrari, then nervously and excitedly bringing his Polynesian sound experiments into the studio. Blues, jazz, crime films, bachelor pad, and TV serial music are treated and discarded, then chopped and recycled in a mix that contains a ton of space, but is also bursting with dynamic tension, hilarious asides, sexually suggestive poetry, and a certain rock & roll abandon. While one can recommend "The Funktion of the Hairy Egg," "The Thrill of Romance...?," "Groove Grease," and "Cruisin' for a Bruisin'" as excellent examples that relate to the description above, alas, they only tell a small part of this quixotica story. This is feeling music for thinking people, or drinking music for teetotallers. It can raise one's hackles, or perhaps push one toward a laughter so uncontrollable that it may be dangerous to one's health. Huffin' Rag Blues is one of only two imaginary soundtracks in 2008 (the other is Barry Adamson's Back to the Cat) that are as important as underground hip-hop, Current 93, or the new jazz-funk. It's brilliant, maddening, hilarious, and sinister enough to warrant a place in any collection with a bit of quirk and squeal.


Formed: 1978 in London, England

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

A loose experimental project formed in 1978 by Steven Stapleton, Nurse with Wound explored abstract music -- influenced by Krautrock, freewheeling jazz improvisation, and Throbbing Gristle but including a heavy debt to surrealists Dali and Lautréamont -- with an overpowering release schedule of limited-edition albums and EPs. Stapleton worked with an ever-changing list of collaborators during the early years of Nurse with Wound, though Current 93's David Tibet was the only frequent recording companion...
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Huffin' Rag Blues, Nurse With Wound
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