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CD of The Week

Week of 7/12/21

    Bobby Gillespie & Jehnny Beth - Utopian Ashes (Third Man)

    The sparks that fly on the songs of Utopian Ashes, the debut album by Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream) and Jehnny Beth (Savages), are palpable in detail and rich in direction throughout. Joined by a crack team of musicians that feature Beth’s collaborative partner Johnny Hostile on guitar (for overtones of Shocking Blue/Jefferson Airplane, listen to his guitar-work on album track, “Stones Of Silence”) as well as Primal Scream members Andrew Innes (guitar), Martin Duffy (piano) and Darrin Mooney (on drums).

    The duo’s timeless sound has already been likened to that of Hazlewood and Sinatra (Beth and Gillespie did perform together for a tribute to Lee & Nancy), Wynette and Jones, Gainsbourg and Birkin, Parsons and Harris…. Perhaps, it is all of these, but more than that: it is its own thing. Bringing such blended sounds together has also given the album a filmatic quality (especially on the gorgeous string-filled funky opener “Chase It Down”).

    Separate voices, but not apart—Gillespie and Beth’s call and response are intense and often feverishly sang on heartbreaking tracks like “Remember We Were Lovers,” in heady anger as on “Chase It Down,” and as a dusty walk-through of hometown regret and political anger (on “English Town”).

    Not quite late 70’ funk, not quite country-blues-rock, or orchestral: but maybe a ‘flipped’ version of Shuggie Otis’ “Strawberry Letter 23” meets Brasíl ‘66. You can’t quite put your finger on it—but you know the elements are there: and that is what makes the production of these familiar-but-not-quite sounding songs so achingly clever, as well.

    A superbly written album featuring a fictionalized tale of two people in the midst of a divorce; in love, in anger, in regret, and reminiscing about circumstances—touring and tearing each other, and their social circles, apart—and, on the verge of… walking away, well, we may never know.

    In the album closer, “Sunk In Reverie,” we find the characters tired of speaking, of the scene, and a limelight filled with ‘fake hellos’—perhaps licking a wound or two just to stop the memories from coming amidst a crowded club of well-wishers.

    The remnants in the finale are smoldering—under the ashes of what’s left—it’s on fire, and only Bobby and Jehnny truly know what’s next.
    Review by Carly M.

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