Shankara Andy Bole – Rainbow Crow

Album Review | Left Leg Records | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5

Compulsive scanners of album covers and details, those of us who spend hours hunched over boxes of records and CDs enter a Zen like state. Fingers flicking eyes alert for gems. Everyone has their own talismans or touch stones they look for Beacons if you like shining through the unknown. It might be labels, producers, covers. For me anything on Peter Gabriel’s Real World label gets checked out, similarly anything recorded at the Real World studios gets a closer look. Both of these things are indications of quality and an inevitable left field approach. The name Shankara Andy Bole and Taylor Whitham’s striking Crow Art cover both grab your attention and the fact that its recorded at Real World draws you in like the slow unwrapping a present. The music, Bouzouki, Ebow and loops is initially unclassifiable, by turns beautiful and dissonant, serene and savage. After the fleet fingered folk jazz of guitarists like Gordon Giltrap, John James and the pervasive influence of dexterous American players like Michael Hedges, the UK has developed an experimental ‘guitar’ music scene. Dean McPhee, Andy Cartwright’s project Seabuckthorn, Nick Jonah Davis, James Blackshaw and many others play a music about space and ambience, economy and pared back beauty. To my ears, although with an obvious link to the transcendental 70s guitar flights of Steve Hillage and Daevid Allen, Shankara Andy Bole inhabits this world of shimmering pensive atmospheres with his Bouzouki and Ebow flights of delight. He is a multi-instrumentalist and composer who has recorded with artists as musically varied as Gong and the Bushbury Mountain Daredevils. He has recorded a series of solo albums and Rainbow Crow, as chromatically expansive as the title suggests is his seventh. The album showcases Andy’s powerful Bouzouki playing and constantly inventive looping, there are no overdubs on this album, what you hear is what you get from one man. But listen first then go back and marvel at the bow. “Red Crow” opens decisively with some big chords and a sense of space. A Bass motif and Bouzouki duet together slowly building a sense of tension and power. The final electric notes, siren screams of stringed who knows what, hypnotically wail and call, suggesting at first that Shankara Andy Bole has completely revealed his hand on the first track. Track two “Orange Crow” that strangely intoxicating North African tinged world of Dead Can Dance, percussive finger taps and the resonant strings build a strange dance tune track three, “Yellow Crow” starts with a dissonant looping and some bouzouki notes that just hang in the air. This is American primitive player John Fahey or improvisational noise merchants The No Neck Blues Band. At time the music sounds almost treated and cut up. “Green Crow”, track four opens with some Michael Hedges style tapping, the resonance establishing the physicality of the instrument and the space both it and the musician occupy. Some beautiful chords and reverberating notes add a Moroccan or Spanish feel like ECM’s Anouar Brahem. The space between the notes and the phrases just add to the beauty. A rising glissando six minutes is sublime, as beautiful as a slowly rising sun cut by heat haze. The slowly picked Bouzouki notes are simply beautiful with all the resonant power of a Malian desert blues guitar. Part Tinariwen part Robby Krieger on “The End” this is potent music that crackles with energy and potential. Fourteen minutes of transcendental blues and brilliance. “Blue Crow” carries the musical journey into a more invasive mood with some Flamenco influenced runs. “Indigo Crow” twists the North African Bouzouki with some hypnotic electronic bubbles making a compelling music of contrasts like the 80s Free Festival favourites The Ozric Tentacles twisting Dance and Prog into something new and strange. “Violet Crow”, the final track is a slower more hesitant piece like John Renbourn playing a medieval dance piece bringing this strange and compelling dance to a close.