Sunday, January 6, 2008
The Light is Only Perfect for a Very Short Time
In the early 1990s, the mainstream music industry found more alternative sounds coming to the forefront of the scenery and assimilation started to occur. "Alternative radio stations" like KNNC in Austin, Texas came in to being and some of the gimmicks that radio stations used in an attempt to get people to buy were being employed with this perceived "new" musical style.
These marketing techniques led to a free plane ticket to Dallas to go see The Levellers play a gig with Robyn Hitchcock and Uncle Green at the legendary Deep Ellum Live venue. The enclosed two-disk box was a promotional set given away at the gig by reps from China Records (aka, Elektra). Hey, what the hell, it was all free, right? The only money being spent that weekend was the cab fair getting to the gig itself!
The Levellers put on a great show but unfortunately their experience touring in America was not the best. The stretches between venues was more distant than what they were used to trekking in the UK and they found that the audiences weren't as loyal or devoted to where they were coming from philosophically. Being musicians who were borne from the loins of the once-thriving anarcho-punk scene of Britain, this was probably difficult to take.
The Levellers took their name from the 17th century political movement in England. The term came into use as a result of commoners levelling of stone walls and shrubbery that was grown in an attempt to enclose land on behalf of those who were landowners. Some of these skirmishes led to violence while others did not. Although no official manifesto was ever drafted, the general ambition of the group was committed broadly to the abolition of corruption within the Parliamentary and judicial process, toleration of religious differences, the translation of law into the common tongue spoken by those in a particular region, and some kind of expansion of the suffrage that few felt entitled to.
Robin Holcomb's inclusion in this package deal is interesting because on the surface, the musical style differs from that of The Levellers. Having been a Nonesuch Records recording artist who went on her own, she has been likened to a jazz musician with an interesting mix of roots, folk, and spoken word even. Her past poetic works influenced her lyrical content in such a way that misheard phrases can paint differing imagery or thought-processes in the mind of the listener and wind one into tunnels they wouldn't have imagined they'd be taken into before hearing her work. Hearing the fiddle-playing in the Levellers band and their "crusty" traveller lifestyle harkens back to the days of bands busking while on the road and Robin Holcomb's music ties into this background as well.
Reading reviews of those who have seen her perform live carves an intriguing sculpture of her presence. Many recount the pained expression and her reluctance to interact with the audience in between songs while on stage. Most photographs taken of her show her looking away from the camera, evoking a spark of the enigmatic and confronting the viewer in a rather backward and unexpected manner with her nonconformist approach to music-making and interactions with her audience.
The tracks taken for this collection, small though it may be, were from her first self-titled album, which met with much acclaim from those interested in the newer variety of roots-related musical forms. No Depression magazine readers take note if you haven't already!