JUNGLE ROT - George Brigman (Bona Fide/Solid)
I CAN HEAR THE ANTS DANCING - George Brigman and Split (Bona Fide/Solid)
RAGS IN SKULL - George Brigman (Bona Fide/Solid)
Baltimore fuzz master George Brigman has been a well-kept secret for too long, his debut LP changing hands in Collector Scum circles for princely sums that even outstrip the OPEC benchmark for crude oil.
His first release has been the subject of half-a-dozen bootleg pressings. No more. The availability of Brigman's recorded output on CD - adorned with rare or previously unavailable extra tracks - has put this curious and cool body-of-work within almost everybody's reach, with the click of a mouse.
Brigman was one of those people whose music I'd read about but not actually heard, so when prompted by Staten Island I-94 Barfly Artie S's glowing, five Rolling Rock review of the 2007's "Rags In Skull" (scroll down to read it), I took the plunge on "Jungle Rot" via CD Baby. It's a fine starting point.
Recorded in 1974 and released a year later, these are the first public musical steps by a self-taught teenage guitarist growing up in a decaying, drug-blitzed blue-collar suburb. Frustrated by a lack of places to play in Cover Band Central - and emboldened by having a handful of songs published and recorded by other people but aghast at the gutless results - the self-avowed drop-out sang, played bass and guitar and then had a friend track drums.
The results stand apart from almost anything else released at the time - elements of psych, the Velvets and the Stooges for sure, but the songs are as much a product of Brigman's own musical isolationism as anything, I'd guess.
There's a common thread in all three albums, whether intentional or by design. They start relatively low key with some understated, melodic rock with the odd jazzy undertone. But they build, almost imperceptibly before assaulting you with some of the most glorious, thick avalanche of distortion and fuzz to assail this cerebral cortrex in many a moon.
"Jungle Rot" (the song) is evidence of what one guitarist can do with a lo-fi studio and a bunch of pedals. It's a straight-forward enough song, done well. "DMT" couples a snaking fuzz line with wheezy harp and a menacing Brigman vocal ruminating on the local drug de-jouer.
"Don't Bother Me" is a lighter number (at least on the surface) with a sparse vaguely '60s feel and it's a nice contrast. "Schoolgirl" likewise with teenage frustration lathered on top. "Worrying" is almost playful - but of course leads into sonically darker territory with "It's Misery".
I won't dissect each song on "Jungle Rot"; it's the overall impact that makes it a great record, where the sonic flaws actually become a plus.
To various degrees on all his recordings, Brigman passes up on vocals or defers to others, apparently feeling his own voice isn't up to the job. He does have a "guitar player's voice" but so what? On the cuts where he does sing, the understatement of his voice adds rather than detracts.
The addition of three previously unreleased and worthy tracks from Brigman's subsequent band Hogwash puts this release one up on the bootleggers.
"I Can Hear The Ants Dancin'" (1977) is inevitably a more developed album with a different line-up in place. Here. he's partnered with similarly-minded guitarist Chuck Westerman who matches Brigman and often spurs him on, especially on an extended jam like "And Then Came The Rains" or the acrid feedback-laden "Vacation" where the soundscape opens up like the door of a blast furnace.
A word for the wary: the tasty noodling of the opening two cuts ("Part Time Lover" and "I Can't Help The Way I Feel") are deceptively quiet precursors to the shit storms that follow. The instro "I'd Like To Tie a Knot Around Your Mother's Neck" might just be the high point with its savage distorto blues.
Sacrilegious as it may seem to say, there's a Hendrix-like feel to "Blowin' Smoke" that's hard to shake. Its a brother to "Animal Dope" where deeply scarifying guitar figures push the tune into Beefheartian places.
"I Can Hear..." might be the most demanding of the triple-play, extended as it is into 19 tracks, two of which are appearing for the first time. It's not so much heavy going as deeply absorbing and the instrumental separation is a big step up from "Jungle Rot", no doubt thanks to attentive mastering.
If you're looking for an Australian comparator, go not much further than the late, great Lobby Loyde whose eccentric and illuminating tastes run to the same spaces as George Brigman's.
And so to the newest work and "Drivin' On" opens 2007's "Rags In Skull" with a feel suggestive of Creedence before spearing off into multiple directions. Levity comes with the playful "Leprechauns", while "So This is Life" uncannily sounds like the Deniz Tek Group, circa La Bonne Route.
There's a different band at hand (nimble bassist John Spokus plus a range of fine drummers) but that's no surprise as two decades elapsed between this album and its predecessor. Brigman has been battling arthritis of late so that probably compounded his reluctance to lock himself in a studio.
The truly toxic sound doesn't kick in until late in the album with "Some of My Best Friends Are Snakes" and "Goin' To Pieces", while the closing "Swell" is an awe-inspiring blend of harmonics and guitar phrasing that could have continued for much longer. - The Barman
RAGS IN SKULL - George Brigman: (Bonafide Records)
This new disc by George Brigman - who self-released the impossibly-rare and noteworthy "Jungle Rot" LP back in 1975 - is a welcome re-introduction to this talented performer.
"Jungle Rot" has been reissued on the same label and is the perfect blend of The Groundhogs, Blue Cheer and The Stooges. Turn the clocks forward 32 years, and what you still find is a talented guitarist whose technique has become more proficient but still produces vital music. Over the years, he has synthesized his many influences and created a personal style
You can argue that Brigman has been greatly influenced by Fred “Sonic” Smith. The evidence is in both his vocal styling and keen interest in expanding the palette of rock and roll by including the shading of jazz. Brigman’s talent is apparent in the track “Donna Leigh” which showcases a breezy melody, smooth chords and punctuating lead guitar. Tracks such as “Borderline” and “So This Is Life” offer a side of Brigman that are hard rockin, straightforward and less cerebral.
The influence of avant-garde jazz is apparent on the tracks “No More Humans” and “Leprechauns”. Both offer a nice change of pace for the album and shed light on a period of time in music that was care-free and playful.
The final two tracks “Going to Pieces” and “Swell” both exorcise a full assault of acid guitar and heavily sedated vocals.
George Brigman has produced an disc that it is worthy of your listening. Brigman is a talented guitarist and musician who continues to grow with his music.
- Arthur S
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