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Ecstacy to Frenzy

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Album Review

Being perhaps the most identifiable musician behind the song poem industry in the '60s and '70s, Rodd Keith's musical genius is often brought up and admired, but until now there have been no recordings available of what Keith produced outside M.S.R. Records studios and the confined performances applied to his customers' lyrics. Ecstacy to Frenzy changes that, as Keith's son, jazz saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, explains in his liner notes: "It has been immensely gratifying to see Rodd gain the acceptance and acclaim that eluded him during his life and yet incredibly frustrating to me personally that given his enormous body of work I've never heard anything that Rodd did for himself...for my entire life I've wished for some indication, however small, that might reflect Rodd's true musical soul." The centerpiece of Ecstacy to Frenzy, two versions of "Shome Howe Jehovason Plays," is about as lucid as a performance can be, wherein Keith cut a 33-minute improvisational opus to fill one side of a reel of tape, then flipped the tape over and cut another 33 minutes to fill the other side. Unfortunately, the question as to whether Keith listened to the playback of side one in reverse as he cut side two will never be answered, but the entire tape appears here as though he may have.

The first track on the CD is side one played forwards in the left channel with side two played in reverse in the right channel, while the fifth track on the CD is the same tape but instead side two is forwards and side one backwards. This gives the listener a choice to listen to either side, forwards or backwards, in isolation, via the balance knob on the stereo, or the option to listen to both tracks at once, and the interaction between the two played simultaneously is actually quite remarkable. Keith prances around on an organ for the majority of both tracks, but a mashing piano and nonsensical vocals (complete with a belching segment) are regularly interspersed. It certainly seems that Keith's intentions were purely to entertain himself and that this absurd and wonderful session was not intended to ever reach the public. Because of this, the piece maintains complete purity — untouched by self-consciousness or the need to impress — and can be admired as truly art for the sake of art or as a case study on completely uninhibited exploration of sound. Tracks two, three, and four are examples of song poems for which Keith is known that are not covered on Tzadik's previous CD, I Died Today, which features a batch of Keith's contributions to the song poem industry, making Ecstacy to Frenzy a nice companion to that set; however, this offering of the eccentricities and excitement Keith indulged in when he was off the M.S.R Records clock certainly isn't very approachable as anything other than a fascinating case study of a truly intriguing man.


Born: 1937

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '60s, '70s

Rodd Keith is probably the best-known musician who worked in the song poem, or send-us-your-lyrics, industry; certainly, he was one of the most prolific. Keith grew up in a religious and musical family that formed a singing group and toured Midwest America's revival and church circuit, and even cut a few 78s. From an early age, he began playing various musical instruments and writing arrangements. He was later known for being able to play any instrument he picked up, and could play back a piece of...
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Ecstacy to Frenzy, Rodd Keith
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