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The Ultimate Seaside Companion

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Album Review

After cleverly combining aggressive rock with nightclub/cabaret stylings on his Shipwreck album, Chris Connelly formed an entirely new group, the Bells, to more thoroughly explore these latter elements. Admittedly, the Bells isn't so much a group as it is a series of collaborators, predominantly Chris Bruce, who plays a multitude of instruments on most of these tracks. William Rieflin performs on some songs, in a similar jack-of-all-trades mode, while Jim O'Rourke plays on two numbers. The Ultimate Seaside Companion finds the post-industrial crooner pursuing a suave, elegant style that steers clear of supper-club banality. The Bowie influence is definitely strong here, but musically the connection is closer to late-'60s Gene Pitney or Scott Walker's more understated early numbers. All percussion is done strictly by programming — quite a feat given that it really does sound live. Connelly mostly plays acoustic guitar and some harmonica. The songs are generally simple at base, but his lovely vocals and involved lyrics are well served by the careful arrangements his fellow musicians give him. Keyboard-programmed string orchestrations are prominent; Bruce creates some fantastic ones for "My East Is Your West," while "Island Head" relies more on muted horns and Pet Sounds-like keyboard pulses. Connelly himself adds a little of that Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks feeling with some banjo on "Toledo Steel," one of the two collaborations with O'Rourke. Rieflin creates two especially wonderful tunes for Connelly: "Stray" finds him backing the singer solely on piano, while "No More Changing of the Guard" features Connelly singing in a half-whisper over beautiful church organ by Rieflin — a dramatic and striking combination. Fans of Connelly's more aggressive material will be disappointed here, but those who appreciate his work in general will enjoy yet another fine album from him.

The Ultimate Seaside Companion, Chris Connelly and the Bells
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