TURN UP THE SUN - Dom Mariani and The Majestic Kelp (Head Records)
Star billing for Mr Mariani in the band name these days is no surprise. He's been leading this diverse and floating crew for years and they've never failed to deliver on a promise of broadening the limited palette of traditional surf music. Putting Dom's moniker on the cover won't hurt sales and most of the playing is his own work.
It's been said before about the Kelp but it's worth underlining: If you're expecting screaming guitars or Davie Allan and The Arrows-like distortion, look elsewhere. The Majestic Kelp deal in clean tones and a warm vibe. They dabble in lounge, spaghetti western and cocktail variations with a slightly trippy feel. It's lush and well arranged. Sitar bumps up against piano. Guitars nudge things into place. The Kelp even branches into occasional vocalising Much of the material could slide onto a movie soundtrack or grown-up public radio where the format makes concessions to occasionally playing songs.
It's a stellar guest cast that's been caught up in the Kelp. As alluded, Dom plays most of the instruments with Stu Loasby (bass, piano, organ) also getting a prominent billing. After that, you'll find Hank Marvin sideman Nunzio Mondia, DomNicks bandmate Howard Shawcross and DM3 members Pascal Bartolone and Rob Scorer are on-board. Julian Matthews from The Stems also puts in a cameo on guitar.
Surf music, of course, had its heyday in the early '60s. Songs like "Where In The World (A Song For The Summer)" and "Beach Combing" stay true to the spirit of The Shadows and Hank. What makes the album great is its constant twists and turns. "Reef Beat" gets all funky over a minimal feel, for example, and then "Smoke Signals" summons up an Apache tribe. A few tracks down the line and "Gin and Tonic" rhymes with laconic.
A dual thumbs-up to the guitar work throughout. Most of it is down to Dom Mariani and his warm, thick tonesare all over this album.
Is there a perverse logic in releasing an album of surf tunes in the depth of an Australian winter? It shouldn't matter much because "Turn Up The Sun" will have international appeal. Its prospects of being noticed probably aren't harmed by the fact it's been issued on the label owned by iconic Oz saxophonist/salsa-rocker Joe Camilleri.
Yes, there's an air of sophistication about "Turn Up The Sun" that suggests dinner parties on the back deck and cocktails at 7. That might rub you the wrong way if you think Al Fresco is the name of the guy who runs your local pizza parlour, but at least you know what you're in for. I'll certainly be cranking this when the mood takes me. - The Barman
MUSIC TO CHASE CARS BY – The Majestic Kelp (Head Records)
Canines chase cars and humans drive them, so I’m not sure where the name comes from for this second album for Dom Mariani’s instro/surf music offshoot. It is probably just a signal that they’re not taking it all too seriously. It’s doubtful the disc contains sounds with frequencies too high for all but animal ears, but it sure sounds damn fine when you’re behind the wheel.
If the first Majestic Kelp album (“Underwater Casino”) was more restrained than fans of the band-leading primo garage-popster from Perth might have come to expect, “Music To Chase Cars By” makes amends. Not that Mariani and his mates have to be apologetic; it’s just that their second effort moves outside the relatively modest “lounge-surf” confines and dips its collective toe into half-a-dozen different musical oceans. Like a big sponge, the Kelps draw all on the obvious surf influences - and then a few more - exploring hot rod fuzz, driving slide-guitar pop and Byrdsian jangle-play along the way. The result is a refreshingly bright and unpretentious album.
Surf music has a long and enduring heritage in Australia, being the form of rock and roll that local instro bands learned before the tidal wave of beat hit in the early ‘60s. Its legacy is sometimes a search for authenticity that borders on an obsession that imposes its own limitations. (I once knew a surf guitarist who was so close to the sounds of The Atlantics and Hank Marvin that you could have sworn he was channelling them; then he obscured his solo album with more phasing and flanging than a kid with a blank cheque in a guitar shop on an pedal buying spree. Which shows that some surf guitarists can’t see the beach-break for the sand dunes).
The feel of “Music To Chase Cars By” is warmer than Cottesloe on a still January day. It sounds like The Majestic Kelp worked with all the right instrumentation and amplification to come across as The Real Deal, but decided to mix it up and avoid clichés. The core band - Dom, Robbie Scorer (drums) and Stu Loasby (bass) - will be familiar to Mariani fans, with organist Tobias Gosfield an addition since the first album. The playing is as top-shelf as the guest list (famed slide player Dave Hole on mandolin, saxophonist Billy Rogers, most notably).
There's much to please fans of just about any instro genre, from the sax-inflected space-surf of "Occhilupo" to the 12-string chime of "The Byrds Have Flown" (no guessing from where that title comes), to hotrod fuzz ("Traffic Jam City") and Shadows sparkle ("Off the Top of My Head"), the Kelps have every base covered.
Fun soundtrack to this or any other summer. Surf and enjoy! - The Barman
P.S.: Yes, we know much of this album isn't surf in the purist (double-picking) sense of the term, but we deliberately went with what's in popular usage. Dig?
UNDERWATER CASINO - Dom Mariani & The Majestic Kelp (Head)
It's winter in Australia so it's time to launch a surf album. Not sure of the logic of that but "Underwater Casino" is not your average instro' surf effort.
Dom Mariani should need no introduction - not with a c.v. that includes the Stems (Australia's best '60s-inspired '80s band) and DM3 (Australia's best '80s rock-pop band). While there were hints of surf guitar shining through both of those bands (not to mention a brine-soaked project like the comparatively short-lived Stonefish), this is a different mouthful of seaweed. Mariani's underrated guitar-playing is to the fore, but on the whole it's a musical mix that's more laidback than loud. Like Morricone paddling in the shorebreak and then apologetically treading sand over your loungeroom while sipping cocktails.
If there's an intersection between lounge and surf music, Majestic Kelp have pinpointed it. It's a place that's about as far removed from "Bombora" as you can be and still smell the salt air. There's nary a hint of volume merchants like Davie Allan or Dick Dale, either. While, for some reason I can't put my finger on, Sydney's Wetsuits missed the mark with their album (which charted similar waters), the Kelp manage to throw up the odd arresting moment ("Tremelo Sun", the languid title track, the more upbeat "Indian Ocean" and the trad-surf-goes-drifting "Let It Hang").
The core band (Mariani, drummer Robbie Scorer and bass player Stuart Loasby) is augmented by occasional keyboards, percussion and sitar. It's on Head Records, the label owned by Joe Camilleri (Jo Jo Zep & the Falcons, Black Sorrows - names you reckoned you'd never see here).
If you like you like to stay between the flags and hit surf that's no more than a foot high, "Underwater Casino" will rate repeated spins. A pleasant enough afternoon in the shorebreak if you're not expecting to ride the wild surf. Tasty. - The Barman
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