When I asked Erika Elder if The Bummer Road was a full fledged psychedelic jug band (sans the jug) compared to the more minimal flavor of her duo recordings with Matt Valentine, her response was simple: ?It?s just the big band.? Indeed it is. Flip open the gorgeous gatefold double album package, and there are six white washed faces greeting hazy afternoon sunlight: Mo? Jiggs, Nemo Bidstrup, Samara Lubelski, Sparrow Wildchild, Tim Barnes, the ubiquitous Valentine, Elder and four legged Zuma, all vital participants on this transcendental music farm. ?Mother of Thousands? is the grand statement from these cosmic folk/blues troubadours, and it?s undoubtedly one of the most memorable psychedelic albums of 2006.
First off, the cover image is a kind of sun-kissed twist on the iconic ?American Gothic? painting. Matt and Erika are closer to American Bliss in this portrait. They are living in the dream, at least in the moment captured. Of course, images tend to come with their own exaggerated meanings. Maybe it?s a random off-screen rustle that has Elder distracted while Valentine looks directly into the camera; maybe it?s intentional. Either way the image conveys what I believe is at the heart of MV & EE and The Bummer Road?a willingness to look directly into the eye of the perceiver and look away too. Familiar folk melodies and old blues riffs manifest in this aural soup, but there is just as much distraction and dissonance too. A great deal of chance is left between the notes. At times The Bummer Road?s off-kilter melodies are so buried in droning reverb and shifting instrumental chaos that the listener could get confused or lost in the murk. Mo Jiggs? harmonica is heard as haunted squawks and groaning trills. Guitars are obliquely plucked and shook to reveal new alien overtones, but through it all there remains ever the faintest murmur of something traditional.
Gentle folk pop spirals like ?Cold Rain? and ?Sunshine Girl? are among the most accessible things to bear the MV/EE stamp to date, joyful slices of psych roots bliss that hearken back to golden moments by such exploratory blues psych hall-of-famers as The Grateful Dead and Canned Heat. Anyone ever notice how much Valentine sounds like Al Wilson these days? To bring home the point, one song is called ?Canned Heat Blues.? But it must be said the Bummer Road goes further and deeper than any of their ancestors ever dared (but Sun-Ra of course). Some might even say they go too far. There are more than a few moments that lend credence to the suggestion, but then whoever said that psychedelia was just about sunbeams and pretty flowers?
As if the first disc of song based numbers wasn?t enough, the second disc explores vividly the group?s proclivity for more epic meditative journeys and imploded free jazz arrangements. ?Meditations on Payday? is a workout of the immortal John Hurt classic that glides on the ether for a good 15 minutes with Jiggs? harmonica and Valentine?s acid guitar dancing over a shifting bed of percussive clatter and wind-instrumental whoosh. The sidelong closer, ?Death Don?t have No Mercy? (another cover, this time by Reverend Gary Davis), is broken apart to the most abstract fundamentals before voice and piano slowly come to the fore, and then an abrupt shift to harsher swamp-land noise worthy of Throbbing Gristle before another transition leads to the fade.
I recently saw someone refer to ?Mother of Thousands? as the rightful descendant of Royal Trux?s immortal skronk blues epic ?Twin Infinitives,? and at the time I didn?t really hear it. ?Twin Infinitives? is a howling crawl through the most damaged post industrial void, but it?s also alive with detail and vivid vitality every second of the way. ?Mother of Thousands? is a mellower, more blissful glide, but it emanates its own dark menace. Death crawls through this microtonal universe with no mercy, but then so does life. It?s a little broken down, but it?s nothing that isn?t entirely indicative of what it is to feel hope, love, pain, fear and the whole mess of living this life. 9/10 -- Lee Jackson (30 January, 2007)