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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Mayo Thompson - Corky's Debt To His Father

mayo thompson

mayo thompson

The Red Crayola were visionaries that left music behind to create their fractured sound a little removed from "Trout Mask Replica". Their moonfaced insularity made listening to them a bit taxing at times. They are the kind of band you have to be in the mood for and need to reacquaint yourself with every time you throw them into the stereo. But one does get the lingering sensation that behind all the noise and free form freak outs lies a songwriter of note. That songwriter's name is Mayo Thompson and with his sole solo record "Corky's Debt to His Father" he pretty much outdid everything the Crayola had done, albeit in a much more stripped down fashion.

This album, originally released in 1970 on the vanity "Texas Revolution" label, has its origins in the most unlikely of sources, namely the Texan psychedelic underground, overseen by the 13th Floor Elevators and their International Artists imprint. The spirit of the Red Crayola is still around, the idiosyncratic melodic twists and off kilter chord changes framed by that frail and quavering voice (Robert Wyatt similarities anyone?) are firmly present but this time the songs are indeed better and Mayo seems much more interested in performing affecting compositions than in showing off his improvisational vein. Which makes a world of difference between semi random detached experimentalism (cool in their own right, I know) and devastatingly interpreted bossa nova meets country meets folk pop songs (still ripe with an experimental edge, mind).

Whilst those first two Red Crayola LPs remain absolute classics in the "out-rock"/psych genre (as well as the two subsequently released efforts from the same period put out by Drag City), often forgotten or simply passed by is this once-only solo effort from 'Crayola leader, Mayo Thompson. By Corky's... time (1970), the band had fallen apart and the incredible psych/freak music scene Texas had in the '60s (with fellow gods, the 13th Floor Elevators) had pretty much ceased to exist, so Mayo went into the studio with some hot Texan session musicians to lay his heart on the line. This is the result.

Which is all well and good, because this is by far his finest work, and indeed, one of the first and finest albums in the general singer-songwriter genre. Thompson's voice oddly resembles a pitch-challenged Brian Wilson, and so does his material (note the resemblance of the last section of "Oyster Thins" to some of the more upbeat material on the Beach Boys' 1968 LP, Friends) and posture (sweetly awkward, intermittently melancholy, otherworldly rock and roll adolescent). The backing is here from Texas session pros rather than any of Thompson's slightly more renowned associates, except for on "Black Legs", a striking solo blues co written by the novelist Frederick Barthelme.

Playing it fairly straight as a country/folk disc - musically I'd say it reminds one mostly of Dylan, with a bit of Texan song-writer a la Townes Van Zandt/Guy Clarke in the mix - what really sets it apart are the truly demented lyrics and occasional unexpected swing in the rhythm. Avant-folk? Often compared to Skip Spence's "Oar" LP of the same period, there's certainly some similarities there, but mostly Corky... exists in its own universe. Mayo sounds like a man out of his time, greeting the horrible '70s with just the right level of cynicism and hope. It'd take him another twenty-odd years to really get his due in the "biz" as one of the true innovators, so wait no longer to discover all the different shades and styles of this rather unique individual. Is that "Saddlesore" 7" he did from the same period still in print? If so, investigate...

While the music is decidedly more toned down than Red Crayola efforts, it is a great deal more realized than any earlier works by Thompson’s band. Stand out tracks include Venus in the Morning, and Good Brisk Blues. Why did Thompson not crack big with this album? Lou Reed vocals, Syd Barrett sensibilities, and much better than Dylan blues, couple that with great lyrics. One of the best underground albums of all time (whatever that means).

Highlights include "Horses", an oddly romantic tune reminiscent of something on the first side of Love's Da Capo; "Oyster Thins", an epic, surprisingly touching domestic ballad reminiscent in spots of - of all things! - "Let It Be"; "Dear Betty Baby", a swaying seafaring ballad with mournful, Taps-like horns; "Around the Home", like something from an early Eno record, with a "Snow In San Anselmo"-like chorus; "Fortune", which presages the pensive country-rock of Gram Parsons's two solo LPs; "Worried Worried", like a crabwise sketch for the much later hits of Fastball; and two hysterically erotic blues that evoke bits of Blonde on Blonde.

Mayo Thompson - Cork's Debt to His Father
Released by Texas Revolution (CFS-2270) in 1970

01 - The Lesson
02 - Oyster Thins
03 - Horses
04 - Dear Betty Baby
05 - Venus In The Morning
06 - To You
07 - Fortune
08 - Black Legs
09 - Good Brisk Blues
10 - Around The Home
11 - Worried Worried

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