Souled American

(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

Fe , 7/10
Flubber , 6.5/10
Around The Horn , 6/10
Sonny , 5/10
Frozen , 7/10
Notes Campfire , 6.5/10
Scott Tuma: Hard Again , 7.5/10
Scott Tuma: The River 1 2 3 4 , 6.5/10
Scott Tuma: Not For Nobody (2008), 5/10
Scott Tuma: Dandelion (2010), 5/10

In Chicago, at the turn of the decade, roots-rock spawned a style that was Nashville's country music transposed into the small bedrooms of the disaffected youth in the small towns of the heartland. Souled American, formed by singer-songwriters Joe Adducci and Chris Grigoroff, featuring guitarist Scott Tuma, and inspired by Camper Van Beethoven, penned one of the most lunatic albums of the era, Fe (1988), an idiosyncratic stew of country, blues, jazz, reggae and zydeco, delivered at the lazy, lethargic tempos of the Cowboy Junkies. The whackiness was replaced by technical dexterity on Flubber (1989), but the lugubrious letargy of Frozen (1994) and Notes Campfire (1997), both eroded by lengthy nightmarish tracks and stripped-down texture-oriented instrumental jamming, reinvented their sound around Tuma's guitar.
Souled American, formed by bassist Joe Adducci and guitarist Chris Grigoroff (both singer-songwriters originally from rural Illinois), were part of an intellectual roots-rock scene that took hold in Chicago during the 1980s. The group drew inspiration from the terroristic acts performed on the folk tradition by Camper Van Beethoven, and applied it to the country music and the blues of the deep South. They further detonated the mixture with elements of reggae and cajun, and softened it with the Cowboy Junkies' lazy tempos.

The group debuted with an exuberant collection, Fe (Rough Trade, 1988), that introduced them as a mildly more serious version of the Holy Modal Rounders. Part of their repertory consists of horribly deformed covers, but the keepers are the originals: soulful ballads like Notes Campfire for drunk yodeling and dirty guitars, grotesque singalongs like Feel Better, zany pastiches of vocal harmonies and square dancing like Field & Stream, Captain Beefheart-ian blues mayhems like Magic Bullets, and caricatures of black music such as the instrumental True Swamp Too. The band colors each tale with oblique chords and odd counterpoint. The lyrical Goin' Home exploits the pace of a New Orleans marching band and epic guitar riffs from the book of military songs. Bittersweet ballads such as Make Me Laugh Make Me Cry are made more pregnant by sloppy guitar work-outs worthy of Sonic Youth. The word "re-inventing" has rarely

Souled American get perhaps a little too normal on their follow-up, Flubber (Rough Trade, 1989). The displays of whackiness is replaced by a display of technical dexterity. For example, the plaintive blues All Good Things features funk-jazz bass; and Drop In The Basket revolves around a frantically convoluted guitar and bass duet.
However, Mar'boro Man, the kind of yarn that a sober Tom Waits could spin, the slow and acid Zillion, and the funereal, psychedelic surf music of Marleyphine Hank (one of their masterpieces) testify to their stylistic sacrilege and to the melancholy atmospheres designed by Grigoroff and guitarist Scott Tuma.
The sleepy, limping instrumental True Swamp is the one mad track that would fit well on the first album.

The instrumental Wildawg is the highlight of the more obscure and psychedelic Around The Horn (Rough Trade, 1990), half of which is taken up by covers.

Sonny (Rough Trade, 1992), their last album, contains almost only covers, albeit remade according to their demented standards.

The melancholy of these later works would peak with the lugubrious letargy of Frozen (Moll, 1994) and Notes Campfire (Moll, 1997 - Catamount Company, 2005) The former features two seven-minute dirges, Lucky and Rain Delay, and all nine tracks are originals. The latter increased the sense that the American wasteland is an American "wasteland" with lengthy tracks such as Flat, Waterdown and Deal.

I Souled American del bassista Joe Adducci e del chitarrista Chris Grigoroff (entrambi cantautori originari di una cittadina di provincia dell'Illinois) fanno parte di una scuola di roots-rock intellettuale che prese piede a Chicago durante gli anni '80. Il gruppo prendeva forse lo spunto dalla operazione terroristica sul folk compiuta dai Camper Van Beethoven applicandola al country e al blues del profondo Sud, usando come detonatori elementi di reggae e di cajun e ammorbidendo la miscela con i tempi pigri dei Cowboy Junkies. Parte del loro repertorio consta di cover orrendamente deturpate, ma almeno Notes From The Campfire, sull'esuberante Fe (Rough Trade, 1988), Marleyphine Hank, su Flubber (Rough Trade, 1989), gravato da eccessi di arrangiamento, e lo strumentale Wildawg, sul piu` oscuro e psichedelico Around The Horn (Rough Trade, 1990), danno la misura della loro tecnica sacrilega e delle atmosfere malinconiche architettate da Grigoroff e l'altro chitarrista Scott Tuma.

(Tradotto da Paolo Latini)

I Souled American si fanno forse un po' troppo normali nel loro secondo capitolo, Flubber (Rough Trade, 1989). Le immagini dure lasciano il posto a esempi di destrezza tecnica. Per esempio, il blues All Good Things mostra un basso funk-jazz; e Drop In The Basket si rigira attorna ad un duello frenetico di basso e chitarra. Comunque,  Mar'boro Man, uno nsbadiglio che Tom Waits potrebbe fare, la lenta e acida Zillion, e la funerea, psichedelica surf music di Marleyphine Hank (uno dei loro capolavori) testimoniano quei sacrilegi stilistici e quelle atmosfere malinconiche abilmente disegnati da Grigoroff e dal chitarrista Scott Tuma.
Il trasognante strumentale True Swamp è un esempio di pazzia che non avrebbe sfigurato sul loro primo album.

Sonny (Rough Trade, 1992), il loro ultimo album, contiene quasi unicamente covers, sebben rifatte con i loro standard demenziali.

la malinconia di questi ultimi lavori culinerà con la letargia lugubre di  Frozen (Moll, 1994) e Notes Campfire (Moll, 1997).

L'ultimo Sonny (Rough Trade, 1992) contiene quasi interamente materiale altrui, ma le cover sono diventate irriconoscibili dietro la cortina fumogena dei loro arrangiamenti psichedilici

La malinconia di questi ultimi lavori sfocera` nella lugubre letargia di Frozen (Moll, 1994) e Notes Campfire (Moll, 1997).

Scott Tuma is also an occasional member of the Boxhead Ensemble.

Tuma's first solo album, Hard Again (Truckstop, 2001), is like an ambient remix of Souled American's most distressed songs. The mostly unaccompanied album (except for some percussions courtesy of Dirty 3's Jim White) features nine instrumental pieces that run the gamut from brief impressionistic vignettes to lengthy metaphysical brooding, taking John Fahey as a reference model and adapting him to the post-rock sensibility. The ten-minute Beautiful Dreamer is like a Christmas carol played at one tenth of the speed and deconstructed the way Hendrix deconstructed the national anthem. A similar operation disfigures Midway and Hard Again, quiet lullabies that seem to betray a nostalgic passion for the milieu of small-city fairs and concerts in the parks. A more extreme "de-tuning" of a simple melody occurs in the solemn and paced March. It's a cubistic art that drains a song of its emotions, but never dissolves into purely abstract sounds. Even the unfocused nebulae of Jim White Drums and the closing Sermon still maintain a melodic core, albeit dilated in a cosmic/ambient manner. Overall, this is a very original album, with a couple of creative peaks (especially the first and the last tracks).

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Walter Consonni)

Scott Tuma è anche occasionalmente membro dei Boxhead Ensemble. Il suo primo album solista, Hard Again (Truckstop, 2001), somiglia ad un remix ambient delle canzoni più angosciate dei Souled American. L'album, che per lo più è privo di accompagnamento (ad eccezione di alcune percussioni dovute a Jim White dei Dirty 3), presenta nove brani strumentali che vanno dal breve bozzetto impressionista alla prolissa meditazione metafisica. Il brano di dieci minuti Beautiful Dreamer suona come un canto di Natale suonato ad un decimo della velocità e destrutturato proprio come Hendrix aveva destrutturato l'inno nazionale. Una simile operazione sfigura Midway e Hard Again, tranquille cantilene che sembrano tradire una nostalgica passione per l'ambiente dell fiere cittadine e dei concerti nei parchi. Qualcosa di più estremo della "distorsione" di una semplice melodia si verifica nella solenne e cadenzata March. Questa è arte cubista che prosciuga una canzone dalle emozioni, ma senza dissolversi mai in suoni puramente astratti. Persino le sfuocate nebulose di Jim White Drums e del brano che chiude l'album, Sermon, mantengono un nucleo melodico, anche se si espande in modo cosmic/ambient. Complessivamente, questo è un album molto originale, con un paio di picchi di creatività (in special modo il primo e l'ultimo brano).

Scott Tuma's short (36 minute) album, The River 1 2 3 4 (Truckstop, 2003), contains four untitled compositions for guitar, harmonica, organ and harmonium (all played by Tuma himself). A mournful harmonica a` la Ennio Morricone radiates drones in a depleted landscape of atonal koto-like guitar tones. The harmonium intones a solemn hymn. The guitar plays a slow, gentle melody. Very slow. The second track is a kaleidoscope of heart-wrenching harmonica wails and hallucinated guitar visions, until, surprisingly, a lively folk lullaby rises out of nowhere, suddenly pouring pastoral, bucolic vibes on the listener. The third piece is half a lengthy meditation for guitar and half a black hole of harmonium drones. After an exhausting "om" of the organ, the fourth and final track kets the guitar loose in a noisy and chaotic coda. Each piece is full of mesmerizing moments, but the drawback is that they all sound more like collages of ideas than like fully-developed ideas. This mini-album can't compare with the masterpiece that was Hard Again. (Translation by/ Tradotto da Paolo Latini)

I brevi 36 minuti di The River  1 2 3 4 (Truckstop, 2003), sono divisi tra quattro composizioni senza titolo per chitarra, armonica, organo e harmonium (tutti suonati dallo stesso Tuma). Una tetra armonica à la Ennio Morricone irradia droni in un paesaggio svuotato da una chitarra atonale simil-koto. L'harmonium intona un inno solenne. la chitarra suona una delicata melodia lenta. Molto lenta. La seconda traccia è un kaleidoscopio di muri di armonica strappa-cuore e chitarre allucinate, finché, inaspettatamente, una vitale ninnananna folk spunta dal nulla, e d'improvviso dona all'ascoltatore vibrazioni pastorali e bucoliche. Dopo un'estenuante "om" di organo, la quarta e conclusiva traccia libera una chitarra in una coda caotica e rumorosa. Ciascun pezzo è peno di momenti mesmerici, ma la verità è che suonano più come collages di idee che come idee pienamente realizzate. Questo mini album non può gareggiare col capolavoro che fu Hard Again.

Tuma's Not For Nobody (Digitalis, 2008) is a vastly inferior album by the standards of Hard Again and The River 1 2 3 4: twelve domestic vignettes, the longest six-minute long, notably Eloper, New Joy and Rakes.

Tuma's Dandelion (Digitalis, 2010) is a confused work, that sounds like a collection of leftovers or unfinished ideas, with Free Dirt stealing the show because of a darker atmosphere. The mini-suite Smallpipes does not deliver.

The guitarist did better on the cassette Peeper (Bathetic, 2010), that contains a five-movement suite, Peeper, and the droning industrial remix Love Songs Loud and Lonely.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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